Department of Health warns of rabies risks

Department of Health warns of rabies risks

Spring and summer mean having fun in the sun and enjoying many outdoor activities. Keeping your family safe is also important. The Tennessee Department 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.” Citizens can take the following actions to help prevent the spread of rabies: • Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs and cats, as required by Tennessee law and local ordinances. Many county health departments offer vaccination clinics in the spring. • Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come into contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately. • Keep children away from any wild or dead animals. Educate them not to touch or attempt to pick up, feed or handle any wild or unfamiliar domestic animals, especially those that are or appear to be sick or injured. • Do not disturb bats. Instead, consult your local health department or animal control agency for assistance in dealing with potential exposure to bats. For more information or assistance with a potential rabies exposure, call your local health department or the Tennessee Department of Health emergency line at (615) 741-7247. Published in The Messenger 6.4.08

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