East Tennessee having success in fighting rabies

Tony Casey • Sep 28, 2013 at 9:14 AM

It appears the rabies vaccinations are working.

That seems to be the general consensus among local health officials and those who work in animal services.

With today being World Rabies Day, with clinics and information events are taking place across the globe to help battle the rabies virus, East Tennessee can boast positive numbers in the fight.

Dr. David Kirschke, medical director at Northeast Tennessee’s regional health office, was shocked at the amount of rabies cases reported in the area so far this year.

“This year to date, we have zero,” Kirschke said. “Zero is unheard of.”

He attributes the success in combatting the virus to the amount of vaccinations people get for their pets, and people being more aware of how they take care of their pets and animals in regard to their food. Kirschke said rabies isn’t a problem with humans, due to the how effective the post-exposure prophylaxis is after coming in contact with the virus.

More than 40,000 people were given post-exposure treatment last year, Kirschke said, but doesn’t think that number represents the amount of people to actually to become exposed to rabies. He said it’s a correct response, but not all cases were confirmed cases of rabies.

“We always get stories like someone who goes camping and decides to feed marshmallows to raccoons, and get bit or scratched,” Kirschke said.

Another effective tool used against rabies, he said, has been mixing the vaccinations in with fish bait, and leaving it out for raccoons.

Raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats get the worst rap as carriers of rabies, but the numbers of rabid animals coming into local animal shelters have been down as well.

Hannah Greene, Washington County Animal Shelter rescue liaison, said they’ve had no reports of rabies this year. She, like Kirschke, can’t stress people vaccinated their pets enough, but said people need to be careful with how they feed their pets outside their house, and that it attracts the kind of animals that might carry rabies.

When the shelter gets a potential case of rabies, Greene said they have a protocol for how to handle the animal.

“When we have a possibly rabid dead animal, we cut the head off and send it to the health department,” Greene said. “We don’t do it with every animal brought in that acts strange, it needs to have come in contact with rabies.”

The brain of the animal can be tested to show if it had, in fact, been diseased. The Centers for Disease Control says the virus infects the central nervous system and makes the infected show signs of fever, headache and constant pain. As the disease progresses, insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, hypersalivation, hydrophobia and excitation occur. Within days of experiencing these symptoms, death is usually inevitable.

Geri Wynn, of Wynnwood Wildlife Rehabilitation, said she’s never seen a case of rabies, and has been working with animals since 2001. Wynn said every animal that leaves their care is vaccinated for rabies, and also for parvo and distemper.

She says there’s a misunderstanding on how much it costs to get pets vaccinated, but stresses how much less it is to pay for preventative care rather than pay for treatment for their pets if they were infected. There are many clinics that offer cheaper, if not free, rates for vaccinations in May and June each year, Wynn said, and she wished more people would use them.

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