Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Project helps protect people and pets

4574461765_0b7d270a79_zBaiting program expanding in Tennessee this year to prevent raccoon rabies

NASHVILLE (press release)—The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to help prevent rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The annual baiting program administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, will begin in Tennessee September 27, 2014.

“Control of raccoon rabies is vital to public health, as reducing rabies in wildlife helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. ”We are pleased to be part of this important and effective program.”

Vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal will be distributed throughout a 20-county area in Tennessee. In response to raccoon variant rabies cases reported in states bordering Tennessee, the area baited in Tennessee will be expanded this year. In addition to the normal target area which include portions of Bradley, Hamilton, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties, Wildlife Services will also bait portions of Grundy, Franklin, Lincoln, Marion, Moore and Sequatchie Counties.

Baits will be distributed by helicopter and by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially-equipped airplanes in rural areas. This will be the second year baits have been distributed by helicopter in Tennessee instead of by ground in urban areas. The only exception is in portions of Hamilton County where baiting will be by ground as part of a research project.

The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed on the following schedule:

Sept. 27 – Oct. 8:  Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties

Oct. 8 – 24:  Bradley, Franklin, Grundy, Hamilton, Lincoln, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Moore, Polk and Sequatchie Counties

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and it poses a risk to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” said John Dunn, DVM, PhD, deputy state epidemiologist. “It’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for dogs and cats to ensure their health and safety, and help provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans. It is also extremely important that raccoons not be transported from one area of the state to another.”

Rabies, once disease develops, is almost universally fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided prior to or soon after exposure.

This is the thirteenth year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. There have been no cases of raccoons with rabies in eastern Tennessee this year. Since raccoon rabies was first detected in Tennessee in 2003, the disease has not spread as rapidly here as has been documented in other areas of the United States.

Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:

If you or your pet finds bait, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fencerow area. Baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them. Eating these baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.

Don’t try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.

Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has been ruptured.

Instruct children to leave baits alone.

A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 1-615-741-7247. You may also find rabies information on the TDH website at http://health.state.tn.us/FactSheets/rabies.htm.

The Tennessee Department of Health urges individuals to enjoy wild animals from a distance and keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccination to help prevent exposure to animals that can carry rabies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website to help educate children about rabies at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids/.

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