OKEECHOBEE — A 74-year-old Okeechobee woman is receiving rabies vaccinations after she was bitten on the hand by an aggressive raccoon.
Brian Sell, a preparedness planner and public information officer with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Okeechobee, said the woman is being treated because the animal has not been captured.
“She is taking the shots as a precaution, because there is no way to test the animal,” he said Thursday, July 16.
According to Deputy Sergeant Arlene Durbin, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), the incident occurred Monday, July 13, as the woman was walking her dog in the Zachary Taylor Campground, 2995 U.S. 441 S.E., around 6:52 a.m.
Sgt. Durbin, who is the supervisor over the county’s animal control department, said the raccoon came at the woman “on the dead run.” The victim grabbed her dog and tried to run into her home to avoid the animal.
However, the raccoon tried to enter the home and attempted to bite the woman on her foot and leg. The animal did manage to bite the woman’s hand.
She then contacted the sheriff’s office, but the animal was not found.
“The raccoon hasn’t been caught yet. Animal control has been trying to trap it for four days now,” said Sgt. Durbin on Wednesday, July 15. “Hopefully, we’ll catch it.”
In the meantime, the victim is taking no chances and has started treatment.
Treatment consists of four doses of rabies vaccine — one dose right away, then additional doses on the third, seventh and 14th days. The exposed victim should also get another shot called Rabies Immune Globulin at the same time as the first dose of rabies vaccine.
Both Sgt. Durbin and Mr. Sell said there have been no other similar incidents in the county.
“We currently don’t have any rabies incidents in Okeechobee County,” said Mr. Sell. “We have had several dog bites, but no rabies cases.”
The sheriff’s office also responded to another complaint about a strange acting raccoon Monday, but that animal also has not been found.
OCSO records show that call came in to the sheriff’s office around 7:30 a.m. from a residence on S.E. 96th Circle.
Records indicate the caller was concerned about a “… raccoon in her backyard that looks very sick.”
That animal apparently did not come into contact with anyone in the area.
Mr. Sell pointed out that this woman did the right thing by contacting someone about the animal. He said people should be wary of nocturnal animals, such as raccoons, that are out in the daylight.
And even though it’s not unusual to see dogs running loose, it’s best to also avoid contact with them.
One way to avoid having animals come into your yard is to keep the lids on garbage cans closed and secured.
“Also, clean your garbage can periodically so you don’t have the smell,” offered Mr. Sell.
To protect you and your family: vaccinate all of your dogs, cats, ferrets and horses against rabies; avoid contact with wild animals; never feed wild or stray animals; don’t allow your pets to run free; and, if your pet is attacked by a wild or stray animal DO NOT check your pet for injuries without wearing gloves.
Also, if your pet is attacked, wash it with soap and water — again, while wearing gloves — to remove the attacking animal’s saliva. But, DO NOT let your pet come into contact with other people or animals until the situation is handled by the DOH or animal control.
According to a DOH rabies fact sheet, the rabies virus is usually passed on to another animal or person through a bite. This transmission can occur if the infected animal’s saliva or nervous tissue enters an open wound or the mouth, nose or eye of another animal or person.
While rabid raccoons have been reported the most in Florida, the fact sheet says bats and foxes can also carry the virus. And since the 1980s, rabid cats were reported more frequently than rabid dogs.
Rabid bobcats, skunks, otters, horses, cattle and ferrets have also been reported.
So, what does a rabid animal look like?
The DOH sheet says they may show strange behavior and can be aggressive — attacking for no apparent reason — or acting very tame, especially for a wild animal. An infected animal may not be able to eat, drink or swallow. They may also drool because they have difficulty swallowing, and they may stagger or become paralyzed.
Rabies will kill most animals.
If an animal bites you, the DOH says to:
• immediately scrub the wound with lots of soap and running water for 5 to 10 minutes;
• try to get a complete description of the animal and determine where it is so it can be picked up for quarantine or testing;
• go to your family doctor or a hospital emergency room;
• call the DOH or animal control with a description of the animal and where the incident occurred. The animal will either be quarantined for 10 days — if it is a dog, cat or ferret — or tested for rabies; and,
• if you kill the animal, be careful not to damage the head. And, even if it is dead, avoid further contact with the animal.
“If you can get the animal, get the animal. That’s the most important thing. Then, get care,” said Mr. Sell. “Report the bite, report the animal, get the animal caught and we can move forward from there.”
He went on to stress if you are even scratched by an unknown animal, go to the hospital and get it checked. Then the DOH, hospital and animal control will work together on the incident.
For additional information, go to: http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/rabies/educational-materials.html.
Rabies cases confirmed in Florida
There were 36 confirmed rabies cases in Florida in June according to the Florida Department of Health.
Alachua County led the state with five, while Seminole County had four. Columbia, Palm Beach and Polk counties were next with three each.
No cases were reported in Okeechobee or Glades counties.
In the areas surrounding Okeechobee County; Martin County had two cases (raccoons); Osceola County had one case (goat); and St. Lucie County had two cases (one cat, one raccoon).
Of the confirmed cases in June, 18 raccoons were found to be infected with the virus. After that, the animal breakdown was: bats – 6; cats – 5; foxes – 3; goats – 2; dog – 1; and, skunk – 1.
Only suspect rabid animals having contact with humans or domestic animals are tested.
Source: Florida DOH, Bureau of Epidemiology
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News