Health Department Rabies Concerns

Monday, 1 October 2018

Tennesseans are protected every day by public health workers dedicated to preventing the spread of rabies. Tennessee rabies prevention efforts include state laws requiring vaccination of cats and dogs, oral vaccination campaigns for wild raccoons, testing of potentially rabid animals and evaluation of possible rabies exposures in people and domestic animals. The Tennessee Department of Health is observing World Rabies Day reminding residents how to protect themselves, their families and their pets from rabies.

According to Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner “In the early 1900s, more than 100 people died from rabies in the U.S. each year. By the 1990s, only one or two human rabies deaths were reported in   our country annually, thanks to modern preventive treatment and an effective vaccine. This triumph is due to the work of public health and the veterinary community in promoting and providing this life-saving preventive treatment and working to support laws and policies for its widespread and continued use.”

Rabies is a virus that infects the brain and spiral cord. It is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. Once disease develops, rabies is almost always fatal; however, rabies is 100 percent preventable if treated promptly before symptoms develop. Rabies preventive treatment is a series of shots called rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP.

In the United States, rabies in humans is very rare, but human exposures to animals that could carry rabies are relatively common. Every year approximately 40,000 – 50,000 people in the U.S. receive rabies preventive treatment after being exposed to a potentially rabid animal. Wild animals are the most common carriers of rabies in the U.S. In Tennessee, the most commonly identified rabid animals are bats, skunks and raccoons. Other wildlife and domestic animals can get rabies if they are bitten by an infected animal. If a person or pet is bitten by or exposed to another wild or domestic animal that could be rabid, do the following: • Immediately wash the wound with soap and water • See a health care provider for evaluation of any wounds • Contact your local health department to determine the risk of rabies and necessary follow-up

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at