We know that there are a range of risks associated with bites from both wild and domestic animals. One danger that we see on a recurring basis in our region is rabies. This is a very serious disease, one that can be treated with timely intervention but is fatal in humans if treatment is not received before symptoms manifest. Irresponsible pet owners who fail to vaccinate their animals are creating a risky situation, raising the danger that a wild animal will infect the pet which will, in turn, pass the dangerous disease to a person.
WJHG reported this week that a raccoon in Lynn Haven tested positive for the rabies virus. The animal had been killed by the Bailey Bridge's south end. Prior to the current case, five other animals (four raccoons, one cat) have tested positive for rabies. The virus, a nervous system disease that is fatal in humans and warm-blooded animals, is passed through the saliva of infected animals. For humans, prompt treatment after a bite or scratch can prevent the disease from developing.
Experts with the Bay County office of the Florida Department of Health report that the state sees more positive rabies tests in raccoons, bats, and cats than any other animals. It is illegal to feed raccoons and all contact with the animals should be avoided. Unvaccinated pets increase the risk of the virus passing to humans and Florida requires up-to-date rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats older than four months. Pets without current vaccinations should be kept indoors to avoid exposure.
According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 40,000 people in the United States receive post-exposure preventative treatment annually. While over 90% of reported animal cases occur in wildlife, humans are most often infected by a domestic animal. Rabies has often been associated more with dogs, but cats are actually infected three times more often than canines in the U.S. This may be because cat owners are less likely to see a veterinarian and therefore do not receive a vaccination. In 2006, per the American Veterinary Medical Association's data, more than 36% of cat-owning homes in the U.S. did not visit a veterinarian. That is more than twice the equivalent figure for dog-owning households.
The CDC recommends vaccinating pets and avoiding contact with wild animals. If a wild animal appears to be behaving strangely, call your local animal control office. In addition to maintaining the up-to-date vaccinations required by law, the CDC suggests spaying/neutering pets to control the population of unwanted animals. Cats and ferrets should be kept indoors, and owners should maintain supervision of dogs when they are outside. Avoid feeding or watering pets outdoors, and keep trash receptacles securely covered to avoid attracting wild animals or strays.
If you are bitten by an animal (wild or domestic), immediately wash the wound thoroughly using soap and water and then contact your medical provider. A series of shots, known as the post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), can be administered after exposure that will prevent the disease. Anyone who suspects they may have been exposed is also asked to contact the Florida Department of Health at (850) 872-4720 x1125.
Attorney Pittman offers a free consultation to anyone bitten or otherwise attacked by a pet in our community. There is no contradiction between loving animals and seeking compensation if you are injured, especially if the pet had not been properly vaccinated.