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Health Officials Urge Self-Protection Against Rabies

Texas Department of State Health Services

Escambia County residents and visitors are being advised to protect themselves from the risk of rabies exposure. This after a fox recently attacked a resident of Century in broad daylight.

Dr. John Lanza, Director of the Department of Health in Escambia County, says in this case the red flags going up were the fox’s behavior and the fact it was not provoked before attacking.

“This is a viral disease that ends up in the brains of humans, and can produce a number of symptoms,” said Lanza. “Including fever and seizures, and 99.9999% of the time results in the death of that individual, unless they receive the preventive medication.”

The resident, who’s not been identified, killed the fox and then underwent treatment. DOH-Escambia sent tissue samples,including the fox’s head, to the state laboratory in Tampa, which confirmed it was rabid. 

A series of rabies shots can protect a bite victim from developing the rabies infection, if given soon after the bite occurs.

“We have ready access to the immunoglobulin and the vaccines that are available for prevention of rabies after one’s been bitten,” Lanza said. “Now this is not necessarily the case for the rest of the world,”

In this century, the number of human deaths in the United States attributed to rabies each year has declined from 100 or more to an average of two or three, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two programs are responsible for the decline in rabies fatalities in the U.S.: animal control and vaccination begun in the 1940s, and oral rabies vaccination in the 2000s.

Bottom line, says Lanza, is that rabies is dangerous but preventable. First, avoid contact with and feeding wild animals such as foxes, raccoons and bats. Also keep away from stray cats.

“You have to remember, we have 50,000 feral cats in Escambia County at any one time,” said Lanza. “So definitely do not be feeding them. Vaccinate your dog, cat, ferret, or horse and keep the vaccines updated.”

Also, teach your children not to go near wild and stray animals; never keep them as pets, make sure your garbage is securely covered, and do not feed your pets outside.

For more information, or to report an animal bite, contact the FDOH-Escambia Environmental Health office at 850-595-6700, or EscambiaHealth.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.