RABIES - What You Should Know...

What is rabies? Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain and nerves). It is caused by a virus that lives in the saliva (spit) of a rabid animal.

How can you catch rabies? Rabies is usually transmitted through an animal bite. It is also possible to catch it if the animal’s saliva gets into a cut on your skin or in your eyes, nose, or mouth.

What animals can get rabies? All mammals, including people, can catch rabies. In Florida, there are four main animals that carry rabies: raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats.

To learn more about
the Raccoon, Click here!

To learn more about
the Red Fox Click here!

To learn more about
the Bats Click here!
To hear the skunk, click on the speaker!

What animals almost never have rabies? Rabbits, hamsters, squirrels, chipmunks, guinea pigs, gerbils, opossums, rats, and mice are hardly ever affected with rabies (Birds, fish, bugs, amphibians, & reptiles don’t get rabies either.) . You may still need a tetanus shot or other medical care if these animals bite you.

What are clues that an animal has rabies?

1) Rabid animals may stagger or stumble around, but not always. Other diseases or injuries can also cause this.

2) Rabid animals may become very mean and try to bite for no reason, OR they may be overly friendly.

3) Rabid animals may become hydrophobic (afraid of water), but NOT always. Sometimes they even swim and drink.

4) YOU CAN’T TELL FOR SURE if an animal has rabies just by looking. So you should never try to touch or feed wild animals or stray cats and dogs. Tell a grown-up if you see one of these animals.

5) Rabies Control / State Lab can test an animal to see if it has rabies. All bites (or other exposures) should be reported to Rabies Control. In Jacksonville, Florida, the number is (630-3260).

What should you do if you get bitten by an animal that might have rabies?

1) Immediately wash the wound with soap and water for at least 15 minutes to try and rinse away the animal’s saliva. Always tell a grown-up if you are scratched or bitten by any animal!

2) Call or visit your doctor or local emergency room if you need to. Get a grown-up to call Rabies Control. Tell Rabies Control and your doctor all of the details you can about how you were bitten, and let them decide what should be done.

3) Do NOT try to trap the biting animal yourself. If the animal is wild, or a stray, call Rabies Control immediately so THEY can trap the animal. Try to remember what the animal looks like so you can identify it later.

4) If the animal is someone’s pet, you should still call Rabies Control. They will speak to the animal’s owner and make sure the animal does not have rabies.

5) If the animal is dead, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Tell a grown-up who can safely pick it up using gloves or a shovel. They should save the animal so that Rabies Control can test it for rabies.

What about rabies shots? If the biting animal tests positive for rabies (or if the biting animal can’t be found), you will need to get the rabies vaccine (medicine) as soon as possible. DON’T WORRY; it’s not twenty shots in the stomach anymore. Today, the rabies vaccine has only 5-7 shots in the arm and the butt. The shots are spread out on different days, and they help your body fight the rabies virus, so you don’t catch the disease. If you get the shots started in time (usually within 7 - 10 days), you shouldn’t catch the virus at all. Your body fights it off. Without the treatment, a person bitten by a rabid animal will probably die.

What happens to the biting animal?

1) Always report a biting animal to Rabies Control (630-3260). After 5 p.m. and on weekends, call Animal Care and Control (389-8846 or 945-4485). These numbers are for Jacksonville, Florida.

2) If the animal is someone’s pet, it will be quarantined for ten days. Cats and dogs die from rabies in less than ten days, so if the animal survives, it didn’t have rabies. If the animal is very sick, badly injured, or showing the symptoms of rabies, Rabies Control will euthanize it (kill it without pain) to test it for rabies.

3) If it is a raccoon or other wild animal, it doesn’t help to watch it for ten days. Raccoons can live for years with rabies; a few even get better again. If a wild animal bites a person, that animal must be captured by Rabies Control and euthanized so it can be tested for rabies. If the animal that bit you can’t be captured, you’ll need to get the rabies vaccine just in case.

What can YOU do to stop rabies?

1) Always get a licensed veterinarian to give your cats and dogs their rabies shots. This is the LAW. If a cat or dog gets rabies shots on schedule, he’s safe even if a rabid animal bites him. (Still, tell your vet if your pet gets bitten. He may want to give your pet a booster shot.)

2) Always keep your dog on a leash. If he gets away, he could get bitten by a raccoon, hit by a car, or he may run away for good.

3) Spay or neuter your pets. Many puppies and kittens end up as strays because there is no one to take care of them. If you fix your pets so they can’t have babies, there won’t be so many strays that can catch rabies.

4) Never pet or feed a wild animal, especially a raccoon. Stay away from ANY ANIMAL that is acting strangely. A raccoon, skunk, fox, or bat that seems tame or approaches you is acting STRANGELY. Don’t go near it, and be sure to tell a grown-up. Don’t pet or feed strange cats or dogs either. (To report a stray in Jacksonville, Florida, call Animal Care and Control at (904) 387-8846.)

5) Don’t put food scraps out for raccoons. Raccoons stay near food. They can bite you or your pets if they get scared. Even if the raccoon is not rabid, a biting raccoon has to be euthanized (killed) to test it for rabies. That’s the LAW. So putting food out for them can actually put them in danger. Be smart and be safe.

Prepared in conjunction with the State of Florida

Duval County Public Health Unit

Environmental Health Division of Rabies Control

Provided by the E. Dale Joyner Nature Preserve at Pelotes Island

St. Johns River Power Park, Jacksonville Electric Authority, Florida Power & Light

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