Rabies alert issued for Indian River County

A stray cat that tested positive for rabies prompted health officials to issue a 60-day rabies alert for certain areas in the county, according to a news release.

Health officials said the tricolor short haired cat attacked a victim on Sunday while the person was working in his or her yard. The victim defended themselves with a garden tool.

Officials did not clarify how the victim was attacked. The alert, issued Tuesday, focuses on the following areas:

  • South of State Road 60, also known as 20th Street
  • North of Oslo Road, also known as 9th Street Southwest
  • East of 66th Avenue
  • West of U.S. 1.

Anyone in the above areas who was recently bitten or scratched by a cat that meets the description should contact the Department of Health immediately.

Rabies is a deadly virus of the nervous system spread to people from the saliva of infected animals, health officials said. Rabies is fatal to warm blooded animals and humans; the only treatment for human exposure is rabies specific immune globulin and rabies immunization, officials said.

Treatment that begins soon after exposure can protect an exposed person from the disease.

The virus is present in the wild animal population. Domestic animals that are not vaccinated could catch the disease.

We strongly advise residents not to approach or feed wild and stray animals, and keep their pets vaccinated,” county Heath Officer Miranda Hawker said. 

Residents should avoid contact with wild raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, otters, bobcats and coyotes. Free roaming domestic cats that compete with wild animals for food also pose a risk for getting infected, officials said.

Here are some tips from the Department of Health to help residents protect themselves and their pets from rabies:

  • Persons who have been bitten or scratched by wild or domestic animals should seek medical attention and promptly report exposure to local animal control.
  • Do not handle, feed or unintentionally attract wild or stray animals, including cats, by leaving pet food outside or garbage cans open.
  • Keep rabies vaccinations up to date for all pets.
  • Do not allow your pets to run free. Follow leash laws by keeping pets secured on your property.
  • If your pet is bitten by a wild, stray or unknown animal, seek veterinary assistance immediately and report the incident to your local animal control agency.
  • Call your local animal control agency directly to remove any wild or stray animals from your neighborhood that are injured or demonstrate unusual behavior.
  • Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Call animal control for assistance rather than trying to nurse injured or sick wild or stray animals.
  • Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly.
  • 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.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.
  • Local animal control agencies in Indian River County coordinate the exposure investigation with the Florida Department of Health in Indian River County.

For further information on rabies and prevention tips, visit the Florida Department of Health website. Residents who need assistance with wild animals can contact animal control at 772-226-3486 or the Vero Beach Police Department at 772-978-4600.

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