Rabies still a threat in Tennessee

Friday, May 9, 2008

NASHVILLE -- Spring and summer mean having fun in the sun and enjoying many outdoor activities. Keeping your family safe is also important.

The Tennessee Depart-ment of Health reminds Tennesseans that preventing exposure of people and their pets to the rabies virus is a priority, especially during this time of year.

Humans can be exposed to rabies when attempting to assist, feed or handle wild animals. If a wild or domestic animal is seen as ill or acting strangely, it should be reported to your local animal control agency.

Bats in particular should not be handled. If a bat is found inside, in a swimming pool, or brought home by your pets, use precautions and consult your local health department.

Additional information on bats is available at http://www.cdc.gov/RABIES/bats.html.

"While people, especially young children and teens, are curious about nature and animals, wild animals and unfamiliar pets may pose a health risk to them," said John Dunn, DVM, PhD, public health veterinarian with TDOH. "It is important that parents and other adults educate children to observe from a safe distance and not touch wild and unfamiliar domestic animals."

Rabies is a deadly virus transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Rabies infection occurs primarily in wildlife in Tennessee, but it can be transmitted to any mammal, including humans and family pets.

Bites are the most common means of transmission; contact with saliva from an infected animal can also be a concern.

"Rabies can be prevented if treated promptly before symptoms develop," said Dunn. "But left untreated, rabies is nearly always fatal to humans and other mammals."

A major concern in Tennessee is the emergence of raccoon rabies in eastern counties.

In response to raccoon rabies, the United States

Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service,

Wildlife Services, in cooperation with TDOH and the Centers for Disease

Control and Prevention, distributes baits containing rabies vaccine to

help slow the spread. The bait zone runs along the Georgia border near

Chattanooga up to the Virginia/North Carolina border in northeast

Tennessee and contains about 4,500 square miles. Raccoons are the target

of these vaccine-containing baits, and distribution is accomplished by

hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and by specially-equipped

airplanes in rural areas.

"Most cases of rabies in Tennessee occur in wild animals, including

raccoons, skunks and bats," said Dunn. "However, as growth and

development move into the habitat of these animals the chance of

encounters with people and their pets increases. It is extremely

important that pet owners keep their pets' rabies vaccinations up to

date, and that parents teach their children to stay away from any wild

or unfamiliar animal."