NASHVILLE - Greene County is among the eight Northeast Tennessee counties in which state public health officials are currently distributing oral rabies vaccine.
The drops are part of a broader attempt to prevent the spread of rabies in wild raccoons along Tennessee's borders with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, state health officials say.
The oral rabies vaccine drops began Tuesday in Northeast Tennessee and will continue through Friday, Oct. 12.
The annual baiting program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services.
"Control of raccoon rabies is a vital aspect of protecting public health in Tennessee," said state Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, M.D., M.P.H.
Public health workers will distribute vaccine packets placed inside fishmeal blocks or coated with fishmeal as bait throughout a 15-county area in Tennessee to create a barrier against westward spread of the raccoon-adapted strain of rabies virus.
The barrier varies from 30 to 60 miles wide and covers approximately 3,400 square miles, running along the Tennessee/Virginia and Tennessee/North Carolina border ares in northeast Tennessee to the Georgia border in southeast Tennessee, near Chattanooga.
The vaccine packets will be distributed by hand from vehicles in urban and suburban areas and dropped from specially equipped airplanes in rural areas.
"Rabies is most common in wild animals in Tennessee, and is a threat to humans and domestic animals that come into contact with wildlife," said L. Rand Carpenter, D.V.M., state public health veterinarian.
Rabies, once the disease develops, is almost universally fatal. However, it is completely preventable if vaccine is provided soon after exposure.
Two raccoons have been diagnosed with rabies in the eastern part of Tennessee so far this year.
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.
Although the vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:
* If you or your pet finds a baited vaccine packet, 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 these 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.
* A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.
For additional information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 1-615-741-7247.
You can also find rabies information at http://health.state.tn.us/FactSheets/rabies.htm