Skip to Main Content

Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Works to Protect People & Pets

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 | 05:10am

Tennessee Partners with USDA, Other Southeast States to Prevent Raccoon Rabies

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to prevent the spread of 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 the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, will begin in Tennessee on October 2, 2012.

“Control of raccoon rabies is a vital aspect of protecting public health in Tennessee,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “We’re pleased to be part of this important and effective program to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock.”

Public health workers will distribute vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal as bait throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee to create a barrier against westward spread of the raccoon-adapted strain of rabies virus. The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Virginia/North Carolina border in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee near Chattanooga. The vaccine packets 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 on the following schedule:
October 2 -12:  Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties
October 7-16:  Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and is a threat to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” said L. Rand Carpenter, DVM, state public health veterinarian. "It’s important for pet owners to make sure rabies vaccinations are current for their 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 people don’t transport raccoons 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 eleventh year Tennessee has participated in baiting with rabies vaccine to slow and possibly halt the spread of raccoon rabies. Two raccoons have 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 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 a baited vaccine packet, 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 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 such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats 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. Visit the site at www.cdc.gov/rabiesandkids/.

Health | Press Releases