Health, Agriculture & TWRA Leaders Ask Tennesseans to Help Fight Deadly Disease
NASHVILLE – In the first three months of this year, the Tennessee Department of Health State Public Health Laboratory has confirmed rabies in three wild animals and five pet dogs and cats. The deadly disease is causing concern for officials with the departments of Health and Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, who believe some may have forgotten or are not aware of the impact of rabies.
“Since Tennessee made vaccinations of dogs and cats mandatory in 1953, we’ve seen a significant reduction in the number of humans infected and killed by rabies,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Our last human death was more than a decade ago, which is a testament to how effective rabies prevention efforts are in combatting this virtually always fatal disease that was once more common. Still, as we look at statistics on doses of rabies vaccine now provided annually to pets and farm animals, we recognize that unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated animals, particularly pets, can get rabies and die tragically themselves, and risk infecting other animals and endangering people.”
“Rabies is a lethal disease, and the best way to protect your pets is to vaccinate,” said Charlie Hatcher, DVM, state veterinarian with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “With an uptick of rabies cases in Tennessee, now is the time to make sure your animals are up-to-date. The vaccination is safe and effective and can be obtained at little cost. Just check with your veterinarian for guidance and recommendations to keep your pets healthy and happy. One shot can spare your family the risk and emotional toll of a rabies diagnosis.”
Tennessee Code Annotated 68-8-103 mandates that cats and dogs must be vaccinated; other animals, including livestock, may be vaccinated at the owner’s discretion if a vaccine is legally available for that species. There are effective, low-cost vaccines for many farm animals currently available which offer seasonal protection against rabies. Veterinarians across Tennessee can provide information to assist livestock owners with protecting their animals and, in doing so, help protect their investment and their communities.
With warmer weather arriving, TWRA officials remind those spending more time outdoors to be aware of animals and to not approach or feed wildlife. TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter believes increased awareness of rabies is the first step for personal protection.
“Rabies affects animals in different ways; some may be very aggressive while others listless and appearing tame. Among the more common signs of infection are erratic growling and barking, or unusual behavior, no fear of people, trembling and excessive salivation, often referred to as ‘foaming at the mouth,’” Carter said. “If you encounter an animal you suspect is rabid, stay away and call 911 as quickly as possible. Prevent other people and pets from getting near the animal while waiting for law enforcement to arrive, and remember, just because you see a wild animal in the daytime, don’t assume it’s rabid.”
Among Tennessee’s efforts to prevent rabies is a yearly project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. Raccoons, skunks, bats, coyotes and foxes are among the more common wildlife carriers of rabies. Reptiles and amphibians cannot carry rabies.
People who suspect they may have come into contact with the rabies virus, either through a bite or saliva from an infected animal, should immediately wash the area for at least five minutes with soap and water. They should then seek medical care and treatment guidance from a healthcare professional. For more information about rabies, visit www.cdc.gov/rabies/.
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.