Eight confirmed cases of rabies in the state, including five in pets, have prompted the Tennessee Department of Health to remind residents about the importance of rabies vaccination.
Rabies is a virus transmitted through bite or other contact with saliva of an infected animal. It is nearly always fatal, but illness may be prevented in humans if treated before symptoms develop.
The agency says there have already been four dogs and one cat that tested positive for rabies this year, in addition to two skunks and one raccoon. Those incidences were in Cheatham, Wilson, DeKalb, Cannon, Hamblen, Greene and Johnson counties.
The Tomahawk reports that Danielle Matherly, of Johnson County, is now undergoing a series of painful rabies treatments after suffering a bite from a cat that later tested positive for rabies.
“The deaths of these animals serve as a somber reminder of the importance of rabies vaccination,” TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH said following the death of two dogs in middle Tennessee from a strain of rabies found in skunks. “Our pets are more likely to come into contact with wild animals than people are. Keeping our pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date is an effective and important way to protect both them and our human loved ones.”
The numbers may indicate an increased risk of rabies this year. In comparison, Tennessee had 33 confirmed cases of rabies statewide in 2015, found in twenty-four skunks, five bats, three raccoons and just one dog.
“With an uptick of rabies cases in Tennessee, now is the time to make sure your animals are up-to-date,” said Charlie Hatcher, DVM, state veterinarian with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “One shot can spare your family the risk and emotional toll of a rabies diagnosis.”
Since 1953, Tennessee law has required that pet owners vaccinate their dogs and cats for rabies.
“People, especially young children and teenagers, are curious about nature and animals, but wild animals and unfamiliar pets may pose a danger to their health,” said TDH Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD. “It’s important that parents and other adults teach children to observe wildlife from a safe distance and not to touch any wild animals or unfamiliar domestic animals.”
Tips to help prevent the spread of rabies:
- Keep rabies vaccination current for all dogs and cats and consider vaccinating horses against rabies. Talk with your veterinarian for details.
- Supervise pets to reduce contact with wild animals.
- Stay away from stray, wild or dead animals.
- Never touch a bat with bare hands. If a bat is found inside, in a swimming pool or brought home by your pets, use precautions and contact your local health department.
- People who 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 and then seek medical care.
- Contact your medical provider, local health department or the Tennessee Department of Health emergency line at 615-741-7247 if you’re concerned about any potential rabies exposure to your family or pets. The Sevier County Health Department can be reached at (865) 453-1032.
“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,'” TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter warned. “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.”
In addition to veterinarians, rabies vaccination may be available from your local health department.
A representative from the Sevier County Health Department says the county has no rabies clinics scheduled at this time. However, low cost rabies vaccinations are available every Sunday from 10–11:30 a.m. at PetSense, 699 Parkway in Sevierville and twice per month at Tractor Supply, 330 W. Main Street in Sevierville. The clinics also offer other low cost vaccinations, microchipping, deworming, heartworm testing and preventatives, and prescription flea control products. Find a low cost pet clinic near you.