A rabies alert was issued Thursday morning for the Geneva area of eastern Seminole County, and is in effect for 60 days.

The Florida Department of Health issued the alert in response to a bobcat that tested positive in the area during the past week. Rabies activity has been higher than usual throughout the county since the beginning of this year.

Rabies is a disease of the nervous system that can cause paralysis, and can be fatal for humans and warm-blooded animals if infected. The virus is spread through saliva, and humans can be infected through a bite wound, scratch or exposure of a fresh cut to the saliva of a rabid animal, according to the health department.

An animal with rabies could infect other wild animals or domestic animals that have not been vaccinated against rabies. There is a standing recommendation for dogs and cats to be vaccinated.

A bobcat that tested positive could mean a spillover from raccoons, said Gregory Danyluck, epidemiology manager for the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County. Raccoons have the highest rate of rabies in Florida.

Since January, there have been six reported cases in Seminole of rabies in wild animals, a record high in five years. So far, 20 Seminole residents have been recommended for rabies vaccinations, more than double the yearly average.

But Seminole County isn’t alone in taking precautions; Lake County issued a rabies alert in May after a raccoon tested positive for the disease.

“It’s a good time to remind people of the threat of rabies in Florida,” Danyluk said.

The health department offers these suggestions for avoiding rabies:

* Avoid contact with all wildlife, especially raccoons, bats and foxes.

* Secure outside garbage in covered containers to avoid attracting wild animals.

* Do not leave pet food outside as it can also attracts wildlife.

* No animal is too young to have rabies.

* If bitten or scratched by a suspected rabid animal, wash the wound immediately with soap and water, and seek medical attention. Rabies is preventable when treatment is provided in a timely manner.

* Promptly report any encounter with a suspected rabid animal to Seminole County Animal Services at 407-665-5201.

colwright@tribune.com or 407-420-5433