It's been more than two weeks since Polk County's health department issued a rabies alert for two county communities, but no additional incidents have been reported, according to the Florida Department of Health's Polk office.
Rabid raccoons were found in both the county seat, Bartow, and the northeast Polk County community of Loughman, in the Four Corners area.
In the Loughman incident, a 15-year-old boy was treated with the rabies vaccine, said Florida Health Department spokeswoman Nicole Riley. The boy reportedly was bitten by a rabid raccoon.
The two most recent cases brought the number of confirmed cases in Polk County this year to 11 — up from only three cases identified last year, the state department of health reported.
“The numbers definitely are elevated this year from years’ past,” Riley said.
Riley further said that while most local cases historically involve only raccoons and bats, residents should also be wary of foxes and feral cats.
“Any of these animals can become infected and spread the disease,” she added.
Riley said Polk County Animal Control should be notified immediately if any animals are sighted appearing sick or acting abnormally, or if an animal attacks pets, livestock or people. She also cautioned that all pets should be vaccinated against rabies.
“If your pet hasn't been vaccinated, they are at risk,” she explained.
The rabies alert stays in place for 60 days for the areas cited.
In Bartow, the boundaries of the affected area are Georgia Street on the north, Mann Road to the south and east to U.S. Highway 17 to the western limit at Mary Holland Park Road.
In Loughman, the boundaries are from Kinny Harmon Road south, east to the Providence Golf Club and west to U.S. Highway 17.
“Just because we have outlined these areas, that doesn't mean rabies can't or won't be found anywhere else,” Riley explained. “If one is bitten or scratched by any animal, they should call their doctor immediately and notify animal control, so we can find out of the animal involved has received its inoculations. ...
“There really is no common thread on how this disease spreads,” she went on. “People should just be wary of any unfamiliar animals, and avoid not only bats and raccoons, foxes and cats, but also skunks, otters, bobcats and coyotes.”
Online reports indicate that infected animals' behaviors may change, meaning animals who are normally nocturnal, such as bats, can be found during the day. Other animals, if ill, may lose their normal fear of people and approach homes and other animals they would usually avoid.
Polk County Animal Control can be contacted at 863-499-2600 and the health department's number is 863-519-8300.
Additional information about rabies can be found at www.florida.health.gov/diseases.