Rabies is a viral disease of the nervous system that is nearly 100% fatal, if left untreated. It is transmitted by bites from an infected animal. Rabies in humans in the United States is extremely rare, but rabies causes thousands of deaths each year worldwide.
The vast majority of cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in animals like raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. In 2017, Tennessee had 36 rabies cases:
- Bat (10)
- Cat (1)
- Dog (1)
- Fox (2)
- Raccoon (5)
- Skunk (17)
Tennessee and Knox County laws require all dogs and cats 3 months of age and older to be vaccinated against rabies. Vaccinations should be kept up-to-date throughout your pet’s life.
Preventing Rabies in Animals
- Visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, dogs and ferrets (For information on our annual rabies vaccinations clinics, click here.)
- Maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision when outside
- Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated properly
- Call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals might not be vaccinated
What to Do If Bitten
Rabies in humans is 100% preventable with prompt medical attention.
- If bitten by a wild or domestic animal, or get fresh saliva from the animal into a wound or scratch, immediately wash the wound with soap and water for five minutes and promptly seek medical attention. If symptoms of rabies begin to develop, survival is rare.
- If bitten by a pet, or normal/healthy dog or cat, that animal 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 health department. Do not attempt to capture an animal you suspect has rabies. Notify your local health department or animal control.
Rabies Information for Healthcare Providers and Veterinarians
- For post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) information click here
- For clinical information about the disease click here
- For information about what to do with an animal that has bitten a person click here
Providers and veterinarians must report possible human rabies exposure immediately. Contact the Knox County Health Department (KCHD) at 865- 215-5093 or the Tennessee Department of Health at 615-741-7247 and ask to speak to the epidemiologist on call.