The Tennessee Departments of Health and Agriculture announce that 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.
“The deaths of these animals serve as a somber reminder of the importance of rabies vaccination. Our pets, often including horses, are more likely to come into contact with wild animals than people are. Protecting pets with rabies vaccination can provide a barrier against rabies from wild animals,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Keeping our pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date is an effective and important way to protect both them and our human loved ones.”
The best protection against rabies in household pets, horses and some other farm animals is rabies vaccination. Vaccination of dogs and cats is required by Tennessee law. Having companion animals vaccinated against rabies helps protect people from rabies, too. The Tennessee Department of Health reminds Tennesseans that preventing exposure of people and their pets to the rabies virus is a priority; please consult your veterinarian for more information.
Rabies is a virus transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Nationwide, 37 horses were diagnosed with rabies in 2010, 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. Rabies infection occurs primarily in wildlife in Tennessee, but can be transmitted to any mammal. Bites are the most common means of transmission; contact with saliva from an infected animal can also be a concern. Rabies is nearly always fatal, but illness can be prevented in humans by prompt vaccination before symptoms develop.
In addition to vaccination of companion animals, individuals can protect themselves and their loved ones from rabies by staying away from wild animals. Do not attempt to assist, feed or handle wild animals. If a wild or stray domestic animal appears sick or acts strangely, report it to your local animal control agency. Bats in particular should not be handled. If a bat is found inside, in a swimming pool or brought home by your pets, use precautions and consult your local health department.
“People, especially young children and teenagers, are curious about nature and animals, but wild animals and unfamiliar pets may pose a health risk to them,” said Rand Carpenter, DVM, public health veterinarian with TDOH. “It is important that parents and other adults educate children to observe wildlife from a safe distance and not touch any wild animals or unfamiliar domestic animals.”
Individuals can take the following actions to help prevent the spread of rabies:
•Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs and cats and consider vaccinating horses against rabies. Consult your veterinarian for details.
•Keep pets confined or under direct supervision so they do not come into contact with wild animals.
•Keep children away from any wild or dead animals, including bats.
•Do not disturb bats. Instead, consult your local health department or animal control agency for assistance in dealing with potential exposure to bats.
•Contact your local health department if you are concerned about any potential rabies exposures to your family or your pets.