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Tiffany Newcomb, McKamey Animal Center animal services administrator, talks about having to get a rabies shot during an interview Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at McKamey Animal Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There have been an unusual number of animals with rabies in Hamilton County over the past year and health officials are urging residents to get their pets vaccinated.
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Rabid wildlife

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A rabid raccoon sprayed its rabies-infected blood in the face of a McKamey Animal Shelter employee earlier this year, causing her to seek life-saving treatment and marking the seventh time a wild animal tested positive for rabies in the county since the beginning of 2017.

ANIMAL RABIES CASES IN HAMILTON COUNTY

1999: 0

2000: 2

2001: 4

2002: 2

2003: 0

2004: 15

2005: 3

2006: 4

2007: 4

2008: 4

2009: 1

2010: 0

2011: 4

2012: 1

2013: 0

2014: 0

2015: 0

2016: 0

2017: 3

2018: 2

2019 (to date): 2

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Full schedule of rabies clinics

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At least five of those animals were found near highly populated areas: two in East Ridge, two near East Lake and one at the base of Lookout Mountain after no rabid animals were found in the county from 2013 to 2016. Health officials are concerned about the increasing number of rabid animals encroaching on the city's urban core and are urging residents to get their pets vaccinated at health clinics beginning today.

"We see the rabies in the wildlife, and it's not wildlife way off in the woods," said Bonnie Deakins, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department's director of environmental health. "They're coming in to the closely, densely populated areas. It increases the chance they'll come in contact with the human population."

Rabies, which is spread through saliva, is fatal in both humans and animals once symptoms begin showing. Symptoms include hallucinations, confusion, excessive movement or agitation, seizure and paralysis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, there are highly effective vaccines for people if they are treated quickly after exposure.

In mid-January, a McKamey Animal Shelter employee responded to a call about a raccoon a local resident thought had been hit by a car. The shelter typically deals with household pets but also responds to calls of sick or injured wildlife. The employee brought the raccoon back to the shelter and the raccoon was proving hard to handle.

Animal services administrator Tiffany Newcomb was asked to help.

"It had bitten its tongue in half and was slinging blood all over my face," she said.

In her nearly eight years at the shelter, they had never had an animal test positive. It also marked the first time a raccoon had gotten blood on her, she said.

They sent the euthanized animal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for testing and the results came back positive for rabies.

"I was very shocked," Newcomb said. "I thought they were joking."

Newcomb immediately went to a local emergency room, but she learned the hospital only had one of the two shots necessary for vaccination. She left and went to another hospital to get the hot-pink vaccination shots. The shots left her a little sore, but other than that, there were no negative side-effects, she said. She was able to return to work.

Now, she's encouraging residents to get their dogs and cats vaccinated this week. Annual vaccinations are required by state law and city ordinances for dogs and cats.

McKamey holds a rabies vaccination clinic every Wednesday at its 4500 North Access Road shelter from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. The cost is $10 for city residents and $15 for non-city residents. The Humane Education Society also hosts clinics the last Saturday of every month from 2-4 p.m.

The health department will help put on 35 vaccination clinics across Hamilton County on Friday, Saturday and Wednesday and again on April 12 and 13. All clinics are from 4-6 p.m. The vaccination will cost $12 per pet. Clinics will accept cash or a separate check for each pet.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

CLINIC SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND

Friday

› St. Elmo Community Playground, 4909 St. Elmo Ave.

› Mowbray Mountain Fire Hall, 1705 Mowbray Pike

› Ponders Funeral Home, 4203 Brainerd Road

› John A. Patten Center, 3203 Kelly’s Ferry Road

› Clifton Hills Elementary, 1815 E. 32nd St.

Saturday

› Apison Elementary, 10433 E. Brainerd Road

› Bakewell Community Center, 114 McCallie Ferry Road

› Spring Creek Elementary, 1100 Spring Creek Road

› Middle Valley Elementary, 1609 Thrasher Pike

› Red Bank High School, 640 Morrison Springs Road

› Dupont Elementary, 4134 Hixson Pike

› Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts, 6579 East Brainerd Road

› Tyner Middle Academy, 6837 Tyner Road

› Walden’s Ridge Community Center Fairmount Pike at Hale Street

› Old Soddy-Daisy High School site, 10848 Dayton Pike

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