NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to help prevent rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccines 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 on Friday.
“Control of raccoon rabies is vital to public health, and we are pleased to be part of this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, FACOEM.
Vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal are known to attract raccoons and will be distributed throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee. The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Virginia and North Carolina border in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee near Chattanooga. Baits will be distributed by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially equipped airplanes in rural areas.
The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed Friday to Oct. 8 in Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington 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 soon after exposure.
This is the 10th year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. One raccoon has been diagnosed with rabies in the eastern part of Tennessee so far this year. Since raccoon rabies was first detected in Tennessee in 2003, the disease has not spread as rapidly as what’s been documented in other areas of the United States.
For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 615-741-7247. There is more rabies information available online at http://health.state.tn.us/FactSheets/rabies.htm.