Tennessee works with USDA, other southeast states to prevent raccoon rabies

Press Release

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – 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 began earlier this month.
“Controlling the spread of raccoon rabies is vital,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD. “We are pleased to partner with USDA-WS in this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock.”
This is the 19th year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. There have been two cases of raccoon variant rabies in 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.
Vaccine packets coated with fishmeal will be distributed by helicopter Oct. 3 – 13 and by airplane Oct. 9 – 20 throughout an 18-county area in Tennessee. Distribution of vaccine will target areas where raccoons are likely to live and feed. The oral rabies vaccine is distributed by helicopter in Johnson County until October 13.
“Rabies is most commonly found in wild animals in Tennessee, posing a risk to people and domestic animals that may come into contact with wildlife,” said TDH Medical Epidemiologist Mary-Margaret Fill, MD. “In addition to avoiding contact with wildlife, it’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for dogs and cats to ensure their health and safety, and to help provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans.”
Rabies, once disease develops, is almost always fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided prior to or soon after exposure.
Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:
•If you or your pet finds a vaccine bait package, 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. These baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them. Eating the baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
•Do not 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 more 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. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website to help educate children about rabies. Visit the site at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids/.