Dr. Jennifer Challenger DVM, MPH

You may have heard about Rabies cases in the news recently. There have been six confirmed cases of rabid animals in Hillsborough County in the past six months alone. At least 13 people and three dogs have been exposed to these animals making them at risk for contracting the disease. Rabies is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected mammals. The rabies virus is commonly transmitted through a bite. Animals most likely to transmit rabies in our area include bats, cats, foxes, raccoons and skunks.

Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of rabies, the disease is nearly always fatal. Seek immediate medical care if you’re bitten by any animal or exposed to an animal suspected of having rabies. Based on your injuries and the situation in which the exposure occurred, you and your doctor can decide whether you should receive treatment to prevent rabies.

Even if you aren’t sure whether you’ve been bitten, seek medical attention. For instance, a bat that flies into your room while you’re sleeping may bite you without waking you. If you awake to find a bat in your room, assume you’ve been bitten. Also, if you find a bat near a person who can’t report a bite, such as a small child or a person with a disability, assume that person has been bitten.

Steps you can take to reduce your risk of coming in contact with rabid animals:
-Vaccinate your pets. Cats, dogs and ferrets can be vaccinated against rabies. Pets are vaccinated by your veterinarian to prevent them from acquiring diseases such as Rabies from wildlife and thereby preventing transmittion to humans. Ask your veterinarian how often your pets should be vaccinated.

-Keep your pets inside and supervise them when outside. Never let you pets run loose unless in a confined area such as a fenced in yard and under supervision. This will help keep your pets from coming in contact with wild animals. Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly.

-Report stray animals to local authorities. Call your local animal control officials or other local law enforcement to report stray dogs and cats.

-Don’t approach wild animals. Wild animals with rabies may seem unafraid of people. It’s not normal for a wild animal to be friendly with people, so stay away from any animal that seems unafraid.
-Keep bats out of your home. Seal any cracks and gaps where bats can enter your home. If you know you have bats in your home, work with local experts to find ways to keep them out of your home.

Dr. Challenger works at Meadowrun Affordable Pet Care in Brandon and can be reached at 685-7775 for more information.