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

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Rabies Prevention Program

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The rabies prevention program is a coordinated effort with the FDOH Polk County and Polk County Animal Control/Services to investigate all known animal bites to humans.

Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. Mammals are animals like cats, raccoons, skunks, bats, dogs, and foxes. Birds and reptiles do not transmit rabies. Rabies is a disease that affects the brain. It´s usually passed from animal to animal but it can be passed from animals to people. It´s caused by a virus. In the United States, raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are the main animals that get rabies.

You can´t tell if an animal has rabies by just looking at it. A clue though is if the animal is acting strangely. Some animals may act mad when they have rabies. They will be hostile and may try to bite you or other animals. In movies, animals with rabies look like they are foaming at the mouth. What´s really happening is that the rabies makes them have more saliva and that makes them drool.

Other animals may act timid or shy when they have rabies. This is the most common kind. A wild animal might move slowly or act tame. You might be able to easily get close to it. Since that´s not the way wild animals usually act, you should remember that something could be wrong.

The only way doctors can know for sure if an animal or a person has rabies is to do a laboratory tests.

The best thing to do is to never feed or approach a wild animal. Be careful of pets that you do not know. If you see a stray dog or cat, don´t pet it. And if any animal is acting strangely, call your local animal control officer for help.

If an animal bites someone, Animal Services will try to capture the animal for testing at the state laboratory, or if it has already been vaccinated they will quarantine it to watch for signs of rabies. The Health Department will help decide if the person needs to get the rabies vaccination (shots). Most often the reasons for getting the vaccine are the animal was not found, or the testing came back positive that the animal was rabid. Serious bites to the face often require prompt treatment of rabies vaccine.

What can you do?

  • Vaccinate your pet
  • Maintain control of your pets to reduce their exposure to wildlife
  • Spay or neuter pets to decrease the number of stray animals
  • Avoid purposely interacting with wild animals such as feral cats, raccoons, or bats
  • Report any stray or ill animals to animal control at (863) 499-2600
  • If you are bitten by an animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, and see your doctor or go to the emergency room
  • If you are a physician or doctor’s office, you are required to report all animal bites to animal control at (863) 577-1762

Rabies is 100% preventable. Animals can be vaccinated and people who have been bitten can receive vaccines to fight the disease.

Information on rabies from the Centers for Disease Control: (opens in new window)

Information on Polk County Animal Control/Services: (opens in new window)