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Tennessee Department of Health reports Rabies Confirmed in Two Dogs in Middle Tennessee

Tennessee Department of HealthNashville, TN – The Tennessee Department of Health has recently confirmed a diagnosis of rabies in two dogs in Middle Tennessee.

One puppy died in Wilson County in February and was submitted for rabies testing. A second dog was submitted for testing in February from DeKalb County. Both dogs had a strain of rabies found in skunks, meaning they were likely infected by being bitten by skunks.

Rabies vaccination is the best protection against rabies in household pets.
Rabies vaccination is the best protection against rabies in household pets.

“The deaths of these animals serve as a somber reminder of the importance of rabies vaccination,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Our pets are more likely to come into contact with wild animals than people are. Keeping our pets’ rabies vaccinations up to date is an effective and important way to protect both them and our human loved ones.”

Rabies vaccination is the best protection against rabies in household pets. Vaccination of dogs and cats is required by Tennessee law. Having pets vaccinated against rabies helps protect people from rabies, too.

Many Tennessee health departments work with local veterinarians to provide low-cost rabies vaccination clinics at this time of year. Contact your local health department to learn if a clinic is scheduled in your area. A list of Tennessee’s health department locations and their contact information is available online at http://tn.gov/health/topic/localdepartments

In addition to vaccination of pets, people can protect themselves and their loved ones from rabies by staying away from wild animals. Do not try to help, feed or handle wild animals. If a wild or stray domestic animal seems 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 contact 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 danger to their health,” said TDH Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD. “It’s important that parents and other adults teach children to observe wildlife from a safe distance and not to touch any wild animals or unfamiliar domestic animals.”

Rabies is a virus transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Nationwide, 89 dogs were diagnosed with rabies in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. In Tennessee in 2015, rabies was diagnosed in 33 animals including one dog, 24 skunks, five bats and three raccoons. 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.

Here are some things you can do to help prevent the spread of rabies:

  • Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs and cats and consider vaccinating horses against rabies. Talk with your veterinarian for details.
  • Supervise pets to reduce contact with wild animals.
  • Keep children away from any wild or dead animals, including bats.
  • Never touch a bat with bare hands. Use precautions and contact your local health department.
  • Contact your medical provider and local health department if you’re concerned about any potential rabies exposures to your family or your pets.

For more information or help with a potential human rabies exposure, call your local health department or the Tennessee Department of Health emergency line at 615.741.7247.

For questions about animal health, contact the Tennessee Department of Agriculture at 615.837.5120 or

About the Tennessee Department of Health

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 www.tn.gov/health

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