The Florida Department of Health (FDH) has just expanded its rabies alert to all of St. Lucie County after animal control officials captured an aggressive raccoon that tested positive for the disease.
Between March and November, 7 animals including a dog, a cat, a bat and 4 raccoons have all tested positive. Normally, St. Lucie County averages only 2 rabid animals a year.
A 60 day rabies alert was originally issued in October for a large part of the county, then extended another 60 days after an unvaccinated dog tested positive. Now, as a result of this latest rabid raccoon, FDH has extended the alert of the entire county.
Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system. It is spread through a bite, scratch or contact with mucous membranes such as eyes nose and mouth from an infected animal. Symptoms may appear as early as a week or a long as a year after contact, although on average the time between contact and symptoms is one to three months. Early symptoms include fever, headache, general weakness and tingling at the site of contact. Later symptoms include insomnia, agitation, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), hydrophbia (fear of water), paralysis, confusion, loss of consciousness and ultimately death.
Because of the seriousness of the disease, health officials are warning Floridians in St. Lucie County to avoid any contact with stray and wild animals including skunks, bats, raccoons and foxes.
Individuals exposed to a rabid animal should contact their physician as well as local health department immediately. Treatment includes a dose of human rabies immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine on the day of the exposure, and then again on days 3, 7, and 14. The vaccine is given in a muscle, usually in the upper arm. When given as soon as possible following the exposure, this set of vaccinations is highly effective at preventing rabies.