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Care, common sense can prevent contracting rabies

No matter what season it is, there are things you can do to stem the spread of rabies, according to the Citrus County Health Department.

"It's important that people take care with all animals," said Virginia Crandall, RN, and supervisor of the health department's Communicable Disease program. "Remember, all animals, even the family pet, can bite under the right circumstances."

The following is information to let you know what you can do to help prevent the spread of rabies. Be a responsible pet owner:

+ Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats and ferrets. This requirement is important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection to you, if your animal is bitten by a rabid animal.

+ 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.

+ Call your local animal control agency at 726-7660 to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood. They may be unvaccinated and could be infected by the disease.

+ Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.

Avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals:

+ Enjoy wild animals (raccoons, skunks, foxes) from afar. Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter. Leaving pet food and water outdoors can attract wild animals.

+ Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control at 726-7660 or an animal rescue agency for assistance.

+ Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.

+ 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.

+ When traveling abroad, avoid direct contact with wild animals and be especially careful around dogs. Consult with the health department at 527-0068, ext. 240 about the risk of exposure to rabies, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and how you should handle an exposure should it arise.

Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain and nervous system. It is transmitted from animal to animal and from animal to human. The rabies virus lives in the saliva of infected animals. Infected animals spread the virus to others by scratching, biting or even licking. The virus can also be spread through infected saliva contact with open cuts or wounds, and through the mouth, eyes and nose. If left untreated, in humans and animals, rabies is fatal.

If you are scratched or bitten by an animal that may be rabid, you will need post exposure treatment that consists of a series of rabies immunizations, plus a dose of rabies immune globulin usually given in the arms or buttocks. Exposure to rabies requires medical attention as soon as possible. If treated immediately, rabies is preventable. If you or someone you know has been bitten or scratched by a strange animal, contact Citrus County animal control at 726-7660.

+ Editor's note: This public service article on health safety was provided by Judith Tear, public information officer and emergency coordinator at the Citrus County Health Department. For information, call 527-0068

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