The rabies alert, first issued last week, lasts for 60 days and is designed to notify the public of a concentration of animals testing positive for rabies in the area.
Dr. Karen Chapman, Director of the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County, says this is a relatively unusual occurrence but residents should be aware that rabies can be found in all kinds of wild animals, "In this case it happened to be bats, that is we had three rabid bats associated with contact with humans or domestic animals in a 30 day period."
Those residing within the communities of Florosa, Mary Esther, Hurlburt Field (and the adjacent areas of Eglin Air Force Base) Wright, Ocean City, Fort Walton Beach, and Shalimar (including Poquito Bayou and the Lake Lorraine area) are all now incorporated under the expanded alert.
Dr. Chapman says it’s crucial that people avoid contact with wild or stray animals including baby animals no matter how cute they are. And, she adds that avoidance is the best method since you don’t know when an animal may or may not have rabies, " Please teach your children not to play with or encourage them to interact with wild animals. And, it would be best to avoid attracting wild animals to your yard by not putting out food and by securing all garbage. "
Rabies is a disease of the nervous system and affects the brain. The virus is carried in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to people and other animals through a bite or a scratch and can be fatal to warm blooded animals and humans, without timely treatment. Dr. Chapman says it’ essential to protect your pets at all times, not just when an alert is issued, " If your animal comes in contact with a rabid animal or a wild animal and we can’t determine if it’s rabid and doesn’t have its rabies vaccination there is a very long quarantine period for that animal, even with a current rabies vaccination there is a 45 day quarantine period."
Although the alert is issued for Okaloosa County, the spread of rabies can have an impact on everyone in Northwest Florida. As a preventive measure, the Florida Department of Health in Santa Rosa County and Santa Rosa Animal Control will host the third annual Drive-Thru Rabies Vaccination Clinic on Friday.
Mary Beverly, Santa Rosa Public Health Services Manager, says the event is meant to be fun and fast, "It is a drive-thru clinic, so that means the folks stay in the vehicle, the dogs stay in the vehicle. The cats need to be in a carrier, and they will be taken out of the vehicle and vaccinated inside the building and then brought back to the vehicle."
The event is being organized in observance of World Rabies Day on Friday. Beverly says there are several different public health issues recognized by the Health Department throughout the year and this is one of them, "Rabies definitely has an impact, especially if humans get rabies, it’s a very very lethal virus and we certainly don’t want our pets to get rabies either. So, we’re just trying to prevent that from happening."
To date, each of the drive-through rabies clinics have been a success. Beverly says they’re hoping to match their previous total of over 300 animals vaccinated in the two-hour period that the shots are offered. Achieving such a number will be beneficial for the public and for the public health workers, " It’s also an opportunity for the health department. Our folks that are going to be out there are there to do an exercise and see how quickly we can get people in through a vaccination clinic, because that serves a purpose if we had to do a flu vaccination clinic or any sort of disease outbreak clinic. So, it serves many purposes."
The drive-through event is scheduled from 4-6pm at Santa Rosa Animal Control, 4451 Pine Forest Road in Milton. Local veterinarians from The Ark Hospital and Pace Veterinary Clinic will provide the vaccine and administer injections for a nominal fee, pets should be secured on a leash or in a crate and a certificate and rabies tag will be provided.