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The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote, and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, and community efforts.

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Environmental Health

Rabies is one of the oldest diseases known to man, and occurs everywhere in the world with the exception of the Hawaiian Islands.  The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 70,000 people die from rabies each year, primarily in Asia and Africa.  In the United States, rabies is a rare illness in humans due to the advent of extensive vaccination programs for domestic animals begun in the 1950s.  In an average year some 3 to 5 individuals in the entire United States are diagnosed with rabies.

Rabies is almost always fatal.

Rabies has the highest case fatality rate of any illness known, which means that 99.99% of those people who receive a diagnosis of rabies die from the disease.  Luckily, a reliable and effective treatment for rabies is available, even after an individual is bitten by a rabid animal if received in a timely manner.  The key to surviving the disease is to seek immediate evaluation for exposure and treatment by medical professionals.

What is rabies?

Rabies is a disease that is caused by a virus and is found primarily in warm blooded mammals, especially carnivores.  Unlike many other diseases, rabies does not travel in the bloodstream of an animal.  The rabies virus is termed neurotropic (nerve-loving) since it travels along the pathways of the nervous system.  The virus initially grows (replicates) in muscle, connective tissue, or nerves at the site of the bite, with subsequent entry into nerve endings and then on to the spinal cord and brain.  The virus then spreads from the brain to the salivary glands and other organs.  Infection of the salivary glands produces large volumes of virus in the saliva that, in turn, promotes opportunities for continued virus transmission.  Technically, rabies is classified in the genus Lyssavirus in the family Rhabdoviridae that occurs throughout the world.  The virus is sensitive to ether, sunlight, heat, strong acids/bases and formalin and does not last long in the environment.

How do you get rabies?

Rabies is a disease found only in terrestrial (land) mammals and can only be transmitted in the saliva or nervous tissue of an infected animal.  The virus enters the body of a victim, primarily as a result of being bitten or if an open wound or mucous membrane is exposed to the infectious saliva or nervous tissue of a rabid animal.  In Florida, raccoons are the most frequently reported carrier of rabies, followed by bats and foxes.  Rabid cats are now reported more frequently than rabid dogs.  Bobcats, skunks, otters, horses, cattle and ferrets have also been reported.

What should I do if I am bitten by an animal?

Immediately scrub the wound with lots of soap and water and then put a povidine-iodine solution (iodine antiseptic) on the wound if available.  You should seek immediate medical treatment at your primary care physician, walk in clinic or the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital.

Try and get an accurate description of the animal and where it might be located.  Then report the bite to the Walton County Health Department at 850.892.8021 or Walton County Animal Control at 850.892.8758.  If you kill the animal, be careful not to damage the head, and avoid any contact with it. 

How is rabies treated?

Rabies is a deadly disease which can be prevented but not cured.  If you have been exposed to an animal which is potentially rabid, a procedure called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) may be recommended.  PEP consists of a series of vaccinations, designed to immediately combat the virus particles and stimulate your body to produce antibodies against the virus.

For more information on rabies in the State of Florida, please visit: