I’ve been slow to write about this (and other things lately… busy/lazy) but a rabid feral cat found in the vicinity of Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando, FL  has attracted a lot of attention. The Department of Health in Orange County has issued a 60 day alert for a two mile radius around where the cat was found, an area that hits Epcot.

Why 60 days?

  • Who knows? You have to pick a number. That’s about all the science that went into that, I assume (since raccoon-variant rabies and bat rabies are both still endemic in most parts of Florida).

Anyway, two Disney employees were scratched by the cat when they encountered it in a parking lot of an office building outside the park. It’s not clear why the cat was caught and tested, and whether it had signs of rabies, but it was, and it did.

Scratches aren’t typically considered a risk for rabies exposure but they’re a grey area. Rabies is transmitted by saliva. There are no salivary glands in claws. However, there’s a theoretical potential of rabies virus being there if the cat had just licked its paw, or if saliva was deposited on the person’s skin during a struggle and was driven into the body by the scratch, or if saliva came in contact with the broken skin afterward. So, while scratches are not technically considered a source of exposure by some guidelines, it’s a case-by-case decision, depending on the circumstances. Since rabies is almost invariably fatal but almost completely preventable with post-exposure prophylaxis, treatment of people that are scratched isn’t uncommon.

What does this mean for anyone visiting Disney?

  • Not much. Rabies is endemic in wildlife in Florida. While dogs get more attention, cats are the most commonly affected domestic animal, probably because outdoor cats tangle with wildlife more often and are less likely to be vaccinated.

This doesn’t really change the messaging relating to contact with animals at Disney, or elsewhere.

  • Stay away from unknown animals.
  • If you are bitten or scratched, wash the area thoroughly with running water.
  • Identify the animal, it at all possible, since if it is caught and quarantine or tested, it’s rabies status can be definitively determined.
  • Stay away from unknown animals. (Yes, I realize I already said that, and yes, that includes cute little stray kittens, since they are an important source of rabies exposure.)

Maybe they need to get rid of all of those over-sized mice in Orlando to help reduce the feral cat population.