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Tennessee Ramps Up Rabies Protection

The Tennessee Department of Health and the USDA are working together to distribute rabies vaccination packets for raccoons over the next couple of weeks in parts of Tennessee. Credit: ciconroy/morguefile.com
The Tennessee Department of Health and the USDA are working together to distribute rabies vaccination packets for raccoons over the next couple of weeks in parts of Tennessee. Credit: ciconroy/morguefile.com
September 28, 2015

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - If you took a hike in the wilderness this weekend, you may have noticed little blocks or packets on the ground. Those are actually vaccine packets.

The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute them to 20 counties to help vaccinate the raccoon population against rabies. Deputy state epidemiologist Dr. John Dunn says efforts like this are important in the fight to control the spread of the disease.

"We hope this project will limit the amount of raccoon rabies that comes into Tennessee," says Dunn. "People also need to be aware there are vaccination laws in Tennessee and that dogs and cats need to be currently vaccinated for rabies."

The vaccine baits are distributed by aircraft, and this is the 14th year of the program. Rabies is almost always fatal once it develops.

If you happen to see one of the fishmeal-coated packets, the state asks that you put on gloves and throw it into a wooded area for the raccoons to better access it, while keeping it away from children and pets. Dunn says if you or your pet encounter a raccoon, quick action is called for.

"If someone does have a suspicious exposure or their dog gets into a fight with a raccoon, we recommend they see their veterinarian and that they contact the local health department," says Dunn.

Raccoon rabies was first detected in the state in 2003, but it has not spread as quickly as it has in other parts of the country. So far this year there's been only one case of raccoon-variant rabies found in the state.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN