Updated:VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla.,None — The Volusia County Health Department issued a rabies alert for 60 days Friday, following two unprovoked attacks on humans by feral cats within the past month.
The health department said the rabies alert encompasses sections of Port Orange, South Daytona and unincorporated parts of Volusia in an area bounded on the north by Beville Boulevard, south by Madeline Avenue, east by Nova Road and west by Clyde Morris Boulevard.
Over a 35 day period, two cats tested positive for rabies in the alert area. The first incident occurred on March 9 near the corner of Nova Road and Beville Road when a motorist hit a cat that wandered into its path. Both the driver and a passenger were bitten when they attempted to help the sick and injured animal.
The second incident occurred in Port Orange on April 12 when a small black and white cat ran into the garage of a home in a subdivision located between Reed Canal and Madeline Avenue through an open door and attacked the homeowner. The woman inside tried to chase it out, but it locked onto her leg and wouldn't let go.
"We hear a lot of cat fights, at night. There's quite a few around here. But this is the first time I've heard of any being aggressive," said one resident.
In both incidents, it was determined that the cats that bit the victims were feral cats and, due to potential rabies symptoms, were euthanized and subsequently tested positive for rabies.
"Rabies is a very serious virus that results in a fatal brain disease in people or animals affected," Dr. Bonnie J. Sorensen, director of the Volusia County Health Department said. "All citizens in Volusia County should be aware that rabies is present in the wild animal population, which includes feral cats, and domestic animals are at risk if not vaccinated."
The health department said it is important to avoid leaving food outside for pets or wildlife. Feeding wildlife or feral cats draws them closer to human populations and lessens their fear of people, which is especially dangerous when the wild population carries a deadly virus such as rabies.
The first alert came after attacks from rabid raccoons.
The health department's theory is the disease could be spreading at feeding areas. People have set up shelters to feed cat colonies, but raccoons will finish off the food and may be spreading rabies to the cats.
"One county will have a problem with rabies, and then you'll see the county next to it will develop a problem with rabies maybe a month, two months, three months later," said Paul Minshew, Volusia County Health Department.
The people attacked in the latest incidents received treatment and are doing fine.
Rabies is considered to be nearly 100 percent fatal if it's not treated within a few days to a week of exposure.