Health Department: Beware of Rabies

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Knoxville (WVLT) - Many pet owners are still nervous following the recall of dozens of brands of tainted pet food, but we in East Tennessee have an entirely different cause for concern.

We don't think of rabies as a prevalent threat at this time and place.

But the Tennessee Regional Health Office has just confirmed two dogs, one in Hamblen County, and the other in Jefferson, have tested positive.

The two dogs reportedly became ill several weeks after their owners say they got into a scuffle with a skunk.

And further testing at a state lab in Knoxville confirmed both dogs died from skunk rabies.

Neither dog had ever been vaccinated for the disease.

"As long as there is rabies in the wild animal population, there will always be a risk for our pets to be exposed to rabies, and as long as there are unvaccinated pets running around, then they also can spread it to other pets," Emory Animal Hospital Veterinarian Doctor Andrew Skelley says rabies is primarily spread through a bite from an infected animal.

And vaccinating your pet is the best protection.

Keeping those vaccinations up-to-date will not only protect your pet, but you and your children, as well.

"Because kids want to run up and hug the strange doggy they've never seen before," Dr. Skelley says.

The CDC recommends you teach your children never to handle unfamiliar animals, even if they appear friendly.

In other words, love your own, leave other animals alone, because there is no treatment for rabies after symptoms of the disease appear.

However, scientists have developed an extremely effective rabies vaccine regimen that provides immunity after an exposure or for protection before an exposure occurs.

"There are vaccinations that can be given as a pre-vaccine, and a lot of people in professions where you deal with animals have been vaccinated ahead of time," says Dr. Skelley.

If you are bitten by a wild or stray animal, wash the wound with soap and water and get medical attention immediately.

Also, contact your local animal control office.

Officers will attempt to safely capture the animal for examination.

Health authorities will observe the animal for 10 days, and if it remains well, you won't need rabies shots.

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