Beginning next month, area veterinarians and health officials will be tackling rabies head on with a number of vaccination clinics aimed at protecting domestic animals.
A number of the clinics will be held throughout Sullivan County on May 3, and officials with the Lenowisco Health District have scheduled their clinics for May 5.
"Because of the area's close location to forest areas and the chance that some of the animals who dwell there could carry the virus, we just want residents to get their pets guarded against the risk," said Brad Stallard, Lenowisco environmental health manager.
The agency's reporting region of Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the city of Norton was rabies-free in 2006, said Stallard, with no cases of animal infection reported. A gray fox was killed outside of a church in Wise County in 2005 and tested positive for rabies after it was sent to a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory.
Rabies baits for raccoons - which federal forestry officials began air-dropping four years ago into thick, forested areas of the Tri-Cities - are also helping keep rabies cases low, said health officials.
However, the virus has already been confirmed in Sullivan County this year. Two students from Sullivan Central High School are undergoing treatment after they picked up a bat on a sidewalk on campus. The bat bit one of the teens.
The other teen must undergo the same treatment. While he was not bitten, he still may have been exposed to the virus, according to information from the Sullivan County Regional Health Department (SCRHD).
The bat was euthanized and sent to the Tennessee Department of Health State Lab, where it tested positive for rabies, said SCRHD regional medical director Dr. Stephen May.
Rabies is commonly spread from infected animals to others through saliva, said Stallard.
"Wash the wound, then seek medical assistance immediately," said Stallard, who also noted that the virus can be spread by animals that come into contact with an infected animal's spinal fluid or brain tissue.
Rabies is a viral disease of mammals that affects the central nervous system and when untreated can ultimately lead to death.
After a person is exposed to rabies - through a bite or in some cases just by being in close proximity to a rabid animal or its waste - the incubation period can be from a few weeks to a year, May said.
He also stressed that anyone who witnesses a wild animal such as a bat, skunk or possibly stray dogs or cats acting disoriented or in other strange manners should contact the local health district so precautions can be taken to either capture or euthanize the animal.
Other tips recommended by the health district include:
â€¢Keep pets up to date on all vaccinations, including rabies vaccines.
â€¢Avoid contact with any wild or stray animals.
â€¢Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home to discourage visits from strays or possibly infected animals.
â€¢Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
For more information on rabies contact the Sullivan County office of the Tennessee Department of Health at 279-1616 or the Lenowisco Health District at (276)328-8000.