Rabies in Florida: Update for 2012
by Amanda M. House, DVM, DACVIM
In Florida, 128 animals were killed by the rabies virus in 2010. The vast majority of affected species were wildlife such as raccoons and foxes, but one horse and 15 cats were also lost. In the first half of 2012, 49 fatalities have been reported to the state veterinarian’s office, including two horses in Lee County.
According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s rabies surveillance publication by Blanton et al, cases of rabies in horses and mules across the Unites States increased 12.8% from 2005 to 2006. Fortunately, the publication has shown a decrease in cases over subsequent years, with a 9.8% decrease in cases in 2010 from 2009. Since 2006, nine horses in Florida have died from the rabies virus.
Rabies is a rapidly fatal RNA virus in the Rhabdovirus family. There is no available treatment for an infected animal, and infected animals can transmit the disease to people and other animals.
Classically, infection with the rabies virus causes neurologic signs in most species. In infected horses, the signs can vary and include agitation that may be confused with colic, excessive salivation, dysphagia, abnormal behavior, ataxia, paralysis, seizures, and/or self-mutilation. Sometimes only one or two of the signs will occur in affected cases. Horses typically contract the virus from the bite of a rabid animal. The virus is passed in saliva. Depending on where the horse is bitten, signs of infection can take two to 10 weeks to develop. Once clinical signs of disease are apparent, death typically occurs in three to five days. Fortunately, when compared to many other equine problems, rabies is an uncommon disease in the horse. However, in any areas where rabies is endemic in the wildlife population, horses can be exposed through a bite from infected bats, raccoons, skunks, and other animals.