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Health Fact Sheets

Rabies

What is rabies?

Rabies is a deadly virus that is transmitted by bites from an infected animal. Rabies can be prevented if treated promptly before symptoms develop. Left untreated, rabies is nearly always fatal. Although rabies in humans is very rare in the United States today, up to 40,000 people each year receive preventive treatment following an exposure.

Is rabies still a problem?

In Tennessee and elsewhere in the U.S., the number of rabies cases in domestic animals has declined dramatically due to mandatory vaccination laws for dogs and cats.  However, rabies among wildlife (especially skunks, bats, and raccoons) has become more prevalent.  The higher the incidence of rabies in wildlife, the greater the risk to domestic animals who act as a buffer zone between wildlife and humans.

 

 

How can you protect your pets?

Tennessee law requires that all dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies and their shots kept up-to-date.  Although cases of rabies in cats in Tennessee are uncommon, there are twice as many rabid cats as dogs in the U.S.  To further protect your pets, keep them confined to a controlled area to limit their exposure to wild animals.

 

 

 

What should you do if you are bitten?

If you are bitten by a wild or domestic animal, or get fresh saliva from the animal into a fresh wound or scratch, then immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for at least five minutes, and seek medical attention immediately. Local or state health officials should be consulted to help determine if rabies treatment is needed.

A normal, healthy dog or cat that bites a person should be confined and observed for 10 days, and any illness that occurs during confinement should be evaluated by a veterinarian and reported to the local health department. Do not attempt to capture an animal that you suspect has rabies. Notify your local health department or animal control. Rabies in domestic animals can have a variety of signs and symptoms. Rabid animals may display abnormal behavior or an inability to rise or walk or hold the head erect. Drooling and foaming at the mouth are only occasionally observed.

For Further Guidance

See the Tennessee Department of Health Rabies Control Manual, 2012, for detailed information on the rabies situation in Tennessee, prevention of rabies in humans and domestic animals, and laboratory testing of animals for rabies.

Healthcare providers, laboratories, and public health professionals can find more information about this disease and a variety of others at the Tennessee Department of Health Reportable Diseases and Events home page health.tn.gov/ReportableDiseases/