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505 animal bites in 2012

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:23 PM

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Last November, county health officials confirmed that a Spring Hill teenager and his dog were scratched and bitten by a rabid raccoon and issued a public safety alert.

That incident turned out to be the sole case of rabies reported in all of 2012, according to the Hernando County Health Department's latest rabies report.

There were quite a few bites though.

In 2012, there were 505 animal bites, with the majority of them (371) from dogs. There were also 118 cat bites and 16 bites from animals in the "other" category, according to the report.

Besides the raccoon, those "other" animals included a flying squirrel, rat and wolf-dog hybrids.

Last year's animal bites matched up almost exactly with 2011, when there were 503 instances and the number of dog and cat bites was much the same ratio. However, raccoons accounted for seven bites that year and there were two bats, two foxes, one horse, one squirrel and a lemur.

There were only two confirmed rabies cases in 2011, and that occurred when a rabid fox bit an elderly couple in rural Hernando County.

Residents should not let that sole confirmed case of rabies in 2012 mislead them, said Kenn Lightfoot, an environmental specialist for the health department.

Often, animals disappear after biting people and it is not possible to trap it to determine if it had rabies.

"People who get bit should contact their primary care physician as soon as possible to get it checked out, to possibly obtain antibiotics and get a tetanus shot if they haven't had one for a while and completely fill out an animal bite report," Lightfoot said. "Time is of the essence. Rabies is fatal."

Lightfoot said Hernando County has been successful in avoiding widespread rabies scares because of the health department's proactive education program and getting the word out.

Lightfoot said he can remember when Hernando County's total bites were around 200-250 per year. He attributes the rise to such factors as an increase in population and the rise in pets-per-household.

Foxes, raccoons, bats and skunks commonly carry the rabies virus. Animals with rabies may show strange behavior, according to the health department. They may be aggressive, attacking for no apparent reason, or act very tame. They may drool a lot due to difficulty swallowing. They also may stagger or become paralyzed.

Rabies is a contagious disease that can prove fatal if not treated, and about 85 percent of cases are causes by wild animals, according to the health department.

The health department recommends residents and visitors follow these guidelines:

* * * * *

In related news, Joanne Schoch, executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, will be proposing a new program during a town hall meeting next week that introduces the "Trap, Neuter, Release" system to Hernando County.

"It is a program where you capture feral cats, take them to the vet and get them spayed or neutered; they get a rabies shot and notch their ear so people can tell they've been treated," Schoch said.

"The goal is to establish feral colonies at appropriate locations, and you have caregivers (volunteers) who go there to make sure they have food and water," Schoch said. "A feral cat, if fed regularly, is not the danger to wildlife (or people)."

The program is managed successfully in other communities, and she plans to pitch the idea to county commissioners at an upcoming meeting.

The town hall meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Palace Grand, 275 Della Court, Spring Hill. (352) 544-5290

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