A stray cat in northeast Gainesville tested positive for rabies on Friday – a rare occurrence according to authorities – and health officials are warning local residents to stay away from wildlife and ensure their pets are up to date with the rabies vaccine.
In a press release released Monday evening, the county said the rabies alert would last 60 days and the urban area between Northeast 15th Street, Northeast 39th Avenue, Northeast Waldo Road and Northeast 73rd Avenue near Ironwood Golf Club will cover.
But everyone should be careful, not just the people who live in the area, said Ed Williams, director of animal services for the county.
The cat in question was found outside the Animal Services building, he said, and it is not known if it lived and wandered nearby or was dropped off from another neighborhood.
This uncertainty means that the rabies present in Gainesville is not necessarily confined to the area bounded by these four streets.
“I’d say everyone in Alachua County … should take care of these things, whether they live in the Ironwood area or not,” Williams said.
The cat was euthanized, as is common with rabies, to avoid a painful death and further spread of the disease, he said.
Once rabies has developed, there is no cure.
To date, fewer than 20 human survivors have been documented, and the deadly virus is spread through saliva, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anthony Dennis, director of environmental health for the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, said rabies is usually transmitted through animal bites. In cats, scratches are also considered exposure, as saliva may be present on the claws after grooming. And for bats, presence in a home is enough to be a cause for concern, as their small bites can go unnoticed.
Dennis said to stay safe, residents should keep a close eye on pets outdoors, make sure they are vaccinated, seek veterinary help for injuries and bites and unusual or rabies-indicative behavior to Animal Services at 352- 264-6870 report.
For example, if your dog gets into an argument with a raccoon one night, vaccination is the best protection against a rabies death sentence. Even so, a bite would still require medical attention to prevent other common infections and should be reported so that more animals are not injured.
“Keeping your pets informed about their vaccine will protect what protects you,” said Dennis. “The message is: don’t approach wildlife and make sure your pets are vaccinated.”
If you think you’ve been exposed to or seen a rabid animal, it is best to seek help immediately. Animal Services and the Department of Health will evaluate each case, attempt to catch and test the infected animal, and determine if you need preventive treatment.
But it’s best to do this for the first 10 days after possible exposure, he said. Otherwise it may be too late.
If the animal you were exposed to tests positive, or if an animal cannot be found to test, the health department recommends post-exposure prophylactic treatment: a series of shots with the human rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine, which causes the Prevents the virus from developing.
While avoiding wildlife is difficult for some, it is another important precaution.
That said, don’t skip food overnight for your local cat colony or pet strays. When feeding native animals, give out food for only half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening to avoid attracting wildlife.
Signs of rabies to watch out for in animals include frothing and drooling in the mouth, a drunken walk, and unusually high levels of aggression or friendliness, the two men said.