Disney World theme park visitors warned of rabies outbreak

Helen Coffey

Visitors to a Disney World theme park in Florida have been warned to avoid stray dogs and wildlife after a rabies outbreak.

The 60-day rabies alert has been issued for the area around the popular Epcot Park in Orlando, after a feral cat was found to be carrying the deadly disease.

As well as the theme park, the area is home to multiple resorts, hotels, golf courses and other tourist attractions.

The public have been warned by officials to avoid “feral cats, stray dogs and all wildlife particularly raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks, otters, bobcats and coyotes".

According to the NHS, rabies is a rare but very serious infection of the brain and nerves. It’s usually caught from the bite or scratch of an infected animal, most often a dog.

It’s almost always fatal once symptoms appear, but treatment before this is very effective. There’s also a vaccine for people at risk of being infected.

“Animals can spread the infection if they bite or scratch you or, in rare cases, if they lick an open wound or their saliva gets into your mouth or eyes,” reads the NHS website.

“Rabies is not spread through unbroken skin or between people.”

Advice of what to do if you’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal in an area with a risk of rabies includes: immediately cleaning the wound with running water and soap for several minutes; disinfecting the wound with an alcohol or iodine-based disinfectant and applying a simple dressing; and going to the nearest medical centre or hospital as soon as possible.

Treatment should ideally be started within a few hours of someone being bitten or scratched.

Symptoms of rabies usually appear three to 12 weeks after infection, and can include: a high temperature of 38C or above, a headache, feeling anxious or generally unwell and discomfort at the site of the bite, followed a few days later by confusion or aggressive behaviour, hallucinations, producing lots of saliva or frothing at the mouth, muscle spasms, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and paralysis.

Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal.