Raccoon with rabies bites teen, dog in Spring Hill

The county Health Department offers some safety tips to prevent exposure.

SPRING HILL — A rabid raccoon bit and scratched a teenager and his dog Monday near Brookside Street, Hernando County's first confirmed rabid animal case in more than a year, according to the county Health Department.

The department confirmed that the animal tested positively for the virus on Wednesday.

The last report of a rabid animal in the county came in June 2011 when a fox exposed a couple in northern Hernando to rabies, according to the health department.

Authorities encouraged residents in the area of the attack, just east of Mariner Boulevard and north of Elgin Boulevard, to report any stray animals or wild animals exhibiting aggressive or unusual behavior to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Wild animals make up nine out of 10 rabies cases in the United States, with raccoons accounting for nearly half of the wildlife-borne cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every year, more than 55,000 people worldwide die from rabies, translating to roughly one death every 10 minutes. Most of the deaths from the disease, which can be easily treated and prevented, come from Asia and Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

Raccoons, along with foxes, bats and skunks, commonly carry the rabies virus.

Rabies-carrying animals may show strange behavior. They may be aggressive or act very tame. They may drool excessively because they are having difficulty swallowing. They may also stagger or become paralyzed, the health department said.

Hernando's Health Department recommends residents and visitors observe the following guidelines to help prevent exposure to rabid animals.

• Vaccinate all dogs, cats and ferrets over the age of 3 months.

• Avoid free-roaming animals.

• Don't allow pets to run free. Follow leash laws. Keep pets and livestock secured on your property and consider fencing in areas used commonly by children and pets.

• Don't feed wild animals, and secure garbage cans and dumpsters.

People wishing to report stray animals or animals exhibiting unusual behavior may call the Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.