Published: Dec 12, 2013 12:58 PM EST
Updated: Dec 12, 2013 3:53 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The Florida Department of Health in Lee County is recommending the public take precautions to avoid contact with wild animals following five reported raccoon bites in less than three weeks.

"Never feed wild or stray animals, don't leave your pet food outdoors or take your trash outside until pickup day," said Judith Hartner, MD, director of DOH-Lee. "Those steps will help you to avoid attracting wild animals."

People should also avoid walking at night, but when necessary be certain to carry a light since raccoons are nocturnal and usually avoid light, she added.

Only one of the raccoons was captured and tested positive for rabies. It was found in the Estero area. Little is known about the raccoons that bit two people in Fort Myers last week or two people in Cape Coral this week. All showed signs of distemper, which mimics rabies. Raccoons behaving strangely were also reported on Pine Island, although no bites to humans have been reported there.

Symptoms of rabies and distemper include aggressive behavior, attacking for no apparent reason, or unusually tame behavior. They may drool, stagger and be unable to eat or drink. Both diseases are fatal to animals and highly contagious. Rabies is fatal to humans, but can be prevented.

Care for a person bitten by a wild animal includes, immediately scrubbing the wound with lots of soap and running water for at least five minutes. Schedule an examination by a health care practitioner immediately. Try to get a complete description of the animal and contact Lee County Animal Control at (239) 533-7387 with that information.

Besides keeping anything the animals might consider food indoors and staying in at night, avoidance includes insuring a veterinarian vaccinate all pets--dogs, cats, ferrets and horses--and keep those vaccines up to date. Do not allow pets to run free. Follow leash laws by keeping pets and livestock secured on one's property.

If a pet is attacked by a wild animal, only examine the injury while wearing gloves. Wash the injured area with soap and water to remove saliva from the attacking animal. Keep the pet isolated from animals and people until given appropriate instruction by Lee County Animal Control or the Florida Department of Health in Lee County.

For more information call (239) 332-9501 or go to www.leechd.com.