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Annual Wildlife Vaccination Efforts Begin Oct. 6

TDH Participates in Raccoon Rabies Prevention Project
Tuesday, October 06, 2020 | 10:18am

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture are partnering to prevent the spread of raccoon rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for raccoons across Tennessee’s borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The annual baiting program is administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services and will begin in Tennessee on October 6, 2020.

“Controlling raccoon rabies protects the community,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist Mary-Margaret Fill, MD. “The oral rabies vaccination program reduces rabies in wildlife and can prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock. We’re pleased to partner with USDA Wildlife Services in carrying out this important program.”

USDA teams will distribute oral rabies vaccine baits by helicopter and airplane throughout portions of 18 Tennessee counties. During the baiting period, residents may see and hear low-flying aircraft. After baits are distributed, wild raccoons become vaccinated against rabies when they eat the rabies vaccine contained in the baits.

Baits will be distributed on the following schedule:
Helicopter distribution (urban areas)
• October 6 – 13: Hamilton and Bradley counties
• October 13 – 18: Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties

Airplane distribution (rural areas)
• October 5 –10: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties
• October 10 –15: Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties

Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA-WS program recommends the following 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 area where your pet can’t easily eat them. Eating the 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.

It’s important for Tennesseans to also take steps to prevent rabies. TDH urges people to enjoy wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats from a distance.

“Bats, skunks and raccoons are the most common carriers of rabies in Tennessee,” said Zoonotic Disease Epidemiologist Jane Yackley, MPH. "In addition to avoiding contact with wildlife, it’s important for pet owners to keep their pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. Vaccinating pets not only protects them, it also helps provide a barrier between rabies in wild animals and humans."

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.

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