published Monday, August 18th, 2014

Greater Chattanooga region targeted for rabies vaccine bait drops

In this file photograph from Oct. 2013, USDA wildlife biologist Erin Patrick holds fish-flavored packets of rabies vaccine before their distribution by helicopter. The vaccine is administered when animals bite into the baited packets. The USDA spent several days dropping bait-coated packets of rabies vaccine from a helicopter across Hamilton and Bradley counties to combat rabies in raccoons.
In this file photograph from Oct. 2013, USDA wildlife biologist Erin Patrick holds fish-flavored packets of rabies vaccine before their distribution by helicopter. The vaccine is administered when animals bite into the baited packets. The USDA spent several days dropping bait-coated packets of rabies vaccine from a helicopter across Hamilton and Bradley counties to combat rabies in raccoons.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

REPORT SUSPICIOUS ANIMALS

Anyone who sees a wild animal acting strangely or is overly-friendly should contact U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services at 866-4-USDAWS or 866-487-3297.

RABIES

Any mammal can get rabies. The most common carriers of rabies are raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes and coyotes. Among domestic mammals, cats, cattle and dogs are the most frequently infected.

The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva or brain or nervous system tissue. The only way to contract the virus is by contact with these specific bodily excretions and tissues.

If exposed, decisions should not be delayed.

• Wash any wounds immediately. One of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection is to wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.

• See a doctor for any trauma care from an animal attack before considering the need for rabies vaccination. The doctor, possibly in consultation with the state or local health department, will decide if a rabies treatment is needed.

• Decisions to start vaccination, known as post-exposure prophylaxis, will be based on the type of exposure and the animal the person was exposed to, as well as laboratory and surveillance information for the geographic area where the exposure occurred.

• In the U.S., treatment consists of one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period. Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in the arm, like a flu or tetanus vaccine.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Parts of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama in the Chattanooga region are being targeted for rabies vaccination bait drops this fall in an overall battle against the disease and to fight off what federal officials say is a "small outbreak" in Northeast Alabama.

Officials in Jackson County, Ala., since May have documented five cases of rabies -- a domestic dog, a fox and three raccoons -- sparking rabies concerns particularly in a 10-mile radius around Scottsboro where several people were exposed to animals suspected of having the rabies virus.

Jackson County Health Department environmentalist Nancy Webb said four people who were exposed had to undergo treatment, but there have been no confirmed human cases of the virus.

Carol Bannerman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, said the bait drops are part of a much larger effort that started last week throughout several states east of the Mississippi River.

In the Chattanooga region, bait drops will begin in early October. The effort will include distribution of 603,000 baits dropped from airplanes and another 23,040 baits that will be tossed by hand into wildlife habitat, according to federal officials. These baits will be distributed in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.

Humans and pets can't get rabies from the baits, though dogs can get an upset stomach if they each large numbers of baits, Bannerman said.

Bannerman said wildlife officials in the coming weeks will be trapping and collecting dead animals to determine how widespread the virus is in Jackson County.

Since there is a "small outbreak" in the Scottsboro area, Bannerman said Jackson County residents should report to federal officials any wild animals -- particularly foxes and raccoons -- that are acting strangely or are overly-friendly. Residents also should report any of those animals they find dead that do not appear to have been hit by a vehicle.

Webb said any resident who comes in contact with an animal suspected of having rabies should contact their doctor to see what to do next.

Local and federal officials want to avoid human cases of the deadly virus.

"That's why we're being so diligent in monitoring this situation," Webb said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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