Walton County health officials urge residents to avoid contact with wild and stray animals to protect themselves from the risk of rabies exposure.
In Florida, raccoons, bats and foxes are the animals most frequently diagnosed with rabies. Other animals that are at high risk for rabies include skunks, otters, coyotes, bobcats, and stray or unvaccinated cats, dogs and ferrets. Each year Walton County receives reports of rabid animals.
“Rabies is a potentially fatal disease. It is important not to handle wild animals, to be aware of unusual acting animals, and to keep pets vaccinated against rabies,” said Gail Allen, Administrator for the Walton County Health Department.
Rabies is transmitted through exposure to the saliva and nervous tissue from a rabid animal through a bite, scratch, or contact with mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, or mouth. Walton County Health Department works with Walton County Animal Services in responding to incidents of animal bites, tests animals for rabies through the Department of Health state laboratory, and quarantines animals as necessary.
Walton County Health Department also provides rabies vaccinations to victims of animal bites, the only known effective treatment for rabies prevention in humans.
The following are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones against rabies:
• Keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all pets.
• Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately and contact Walton County Environmental Health at (850) 892-8021.
• Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood.
• Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.
• Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
• Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home.
• Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
• Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas, where they might come in contact with people and pets.
Unusual acting animals should be reported to Walton County Animal Services at 892-8682 for handling.
Anyone who is bitten or scratched by wild animals or strays should report the incident to their doctor immediately, as well as Walton County Health Department. The contact number to report an animal bite to the Walton County Health Department is (850) 892-8021.