A mild winter and warm weather may have rabies rearing its ugly head sooner than normal in Tennessee this year. Four cases have already been reported.
“Two of those cases were in horses,” said McMinnville Animal Control officer David Denton.
The Tennessee Departments of Health and Agriculture recently announced rabies has been diagnosed in two horses. One horse, submitted for testing in January 2012, died in rural Rutherford County, and the other was submitted this month from Marshall County. Both horses had a type of rabies virus found in skunks in Tennessee, although it is not known how they were infected.
“Horses need to be vaccinated against the disease the same way dogs and cats need to be,” said Warren County Animal Control officer Tammy Webb.
While the law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated, the same does not apply for horses.
“No, the law doesn’t require it,” said Webb. “If you love your horse, you will get it vaccinated. Horses are more likely to come in contact with raccoons and skunks, which are two of the main carriers of the disease.”
The best protection against rabies in household pets, horses and some other farm animals is rabies vaccination. Having companion animals vaccinated against rabies helps protect people from rabies, too.
Denton says rabies cases this early in the year is likely due to the weather, to which Webb agrees.
“It absolutely has to do with the weather,” Webb said. “Wild animals are coming out early with the warm weather so the cases are being seen earlier. Normally, we don’t see any rabies cases until April when warmer weather usually sets in. To see it as early as January is not a good sign.”
Denton added, “People need to get their animals vaccinated against rabies. The countywide vaccination clinic is usually held in April. This year’s schedule hasn’t been released yet.”
The countywide rabies vaccination clinic is organized by the Warren County Health Department with support from local veterinarians. Last year’s clinic cost $8 per dog or cat inoculated. The days and times of the clinic are published in the Southern Standard when available.
According to Tennessee Departments of Health and Agriculture, 37 horses were diagnosed with rabies in 2010 nationwide, the most recent year for which data are available. In Tennessee in 2011, rabies was diagnosed in 63 animals, including two horses, five dogs, 12 bats, 43 skunks, and one raccoon.
According to Webb, the other two cases of rabies this year were found in Maury County in a skunk and a raccoon.
Rabies is a virus transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. It occurs primarily in wildlife in Tennessee, but can be transmitted to any mammal. Bites are the most common means of transmission, with contact with saliva from an infected animal also a concern. Rabies is nearly always fatal, but the illness can be prevented in humans by prompt vaccination before symptoms develop.
For more information or assistance with a potential human rabies exposure, call your local health department or the Tennessee Department of Health emergency line at 615-741-7247.
Help Prevent the Spread of Rabies:
• Keep vaccination up-to-date for all dogs, cats and horses.
• Keep pets confined and away from wild animals.
• Keep children away from any wild or dead animals.
• Do no disturb bats.