As if life isn’t hard enough already: rabid otters are apparently a thing. Florida health officials reported this week that a 74-year-old man and a dog were bitten by an aggressive otter, one that later tested positive for the usually fatal viral infection. Both victims have reportedly received treatment and the otter has been euthanized.
The Florida Department of Health reported the attack Monday, which occurred last Wednesday in Palm Beach County. The man, since identified as Joseph Scaglione by WPBF News, was reportedly feeding corn to some ducks near his home when they suddenly flew away. He then saw the otter by a river bank and began to slowly back up. But before he could make it back home, the otter rushed after him and caused him to fall. The animal then went on the attack for several minutes, biting and scratching Scaglione’s legs and arms over 40 times.
Scaglione did eventually manage to break free. But according to Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, the otter came across a family of three and attacked their dog at some point on the same day. Neighborhood residents reportedly then trapped the otter under a recycling bin and he was finally captured by Animal Control. According to officials, the otter was at a healthy weight but appeared to be unusually active at first and then lethargic. Rabies testing can only be done post-mortem, meaning that the otter had to be euthanized, and officials confirmed the otter’s infection on Saturday.
Rabies is one of the scariest viral diseases around. The virus invades the nervous system of its mammal hosts. In most mammals, including humans, the infection eventually causes brain swelling and frightening neurological symptoms like confusion and aggression, the loss of bodily functions, and a pathological fear of water. Once these symptoms start, survival is almost impossible.
Thankfully, there’s a rabies vaccine available for both humans and domestic animals, which has helped significantly drive down human cases in many countries. While the vaccine is routinely given to pets and livestock, it’s more often used in humans as a prophylactic (along with specialized antibodies) to those suspected of being exposed to the virus. So long as this treatment is given early enough following exposure, it’s highly effective at preventing illness. Rabies is still a problem in countries where vaccination isn’t widespread, however, and the virus continues to circulate in wildlife everywhere. Human rabies cases in the U.S. are very rare, though there was a recent uptick reported in 2021.
There have been other documented attacks by potentially rabid otters on humans, though these aquatic animals are considered an uncommon host for the virus. According to Animal Control officials, this is the first case of otter rabies reported in the state since 2010.
Joseph Scaglione is receiving treatment for potential rabies, and the dog was reportedly taken to the vet as well. Vaccinated dogs and other pets suspected of rabies exposure are typically vaccinated again and observed under the owner’s control for 45 days to ensure prevention.