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Airwar against wildlife rabies begins in NET

Staff report • Sep 27, 2017 at 3:15 PM

Rabies vaccine packets coated with fishmeal will be distributed in our region beginning this week as part of the Tennessee Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's efforts to help prevent rabies.

The oral vaccine is 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 and Wildlife Services began this week.

Where in our region will vaccine packets be distributed?

Baits will be distributed by airplane and helicopter in the bait zone that includes portions of Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. In all, 18 counties in Tennessee are in the bait zone. The oral rabies vaccine will be distributed in Northeast Tennessee beginning this week through Oct. 13.

Why vaccinate raccoons?

Control of raccoon rabies is vital to human public health. We are pleased to be part of this important and effective program now in its 16th year to reduce rabies in wildlife, which helps prevent transmission to people, pets and livestock,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones.

What is the incidence of rabies in raccoons in East Tennessee?

There have been three cases of raccoon variant rabies in East Tennessee to date in 2017. 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.

Why are vaccines for your dogs and cats still important?

“Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and it poses a risk to people and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife,” Jones said. "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. It is also extremely important that people don’t transport raccoons from one area of the state to another."

Are vaccine baits safe if I come across one?

Yes, but take these precautions:

• If you or your pet finds bait, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fence row 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.

• 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.

For more information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at (866) 487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at (615) 741-7247. You may also find rabies information on the TDH website at http://tn.gov/health/article/rabies.

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