Number of rabies cases in Florida on the rise

Increase in recent years still far behind late 90s, early 2000s

By Clay LePard - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two counties in Central Florida have been issued rabies alerts after finding animals with the disease, some after attacks. 

In early January, several people near Maitland were attacked by a rabid otter. 

"I was trying to get it off, and I couldn't get it off," Ann-Christine Langselis said. "I wasn't even aware I was screaming." 

A stray kitten in Brevard County also tested positive for rabies. 

And earlier this week​, several people in and around Emerald Island Resort near Kissimmee were attacked by a coyote with rabies. One man even fought a rabid coyote off by kicking it. 

Robin O'Donnell was bitten by the same coyote with rabies while she was outside gardening. That coyote was eventually killed by animal control officers. 

"And before I could move, this thing pounced on me," she said. "It just kept clamping down on my thigh." 

As a result, both Brevard and Osceola counties have issued rabies alerts, warning citizens that wild or domestic animals could have the disease. 

Over the last three years, Florida has seen the number of rabies cases rise from about 59 to 110, according to the Florida Department of Health

However, that increase still doesn't come close to the more than 200 cases in 1998, 2004 and 2005. 

If you happen to stumble on an animal and you're not sure if it has rabies, animal experts say the best thing you can do is just try to get away. 

It's part of Bob Cross' job with Critter Capture Services to encounter all kinds of animals. Cross said he's had two close calls over the years when he was bitten by two different raccoons, but thankfully, both ended up not having rabies. 

"If it's rabid, it's gonna be acting strange, I mean, not just walking past you," Cross said. "Rabid animals are gonna act very different -- very weird, and you'll say, 'What is that?' That's just, I mean, he might be turning circles, he might be frothing at the mouth, laying down ... just something abnormal." 

If you are bitten by an animal you think might have rabies, experts recommend seeking medical attention immediately. 

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