Third rabid raccoon found

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   ROAN MTN. -- Visitors and residents of Roan Mountain are being warned to take precautions by state health officials after a third raccoon found dead in the area tested positive for rabies this week.
   The Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office reported Wednesday a rabid raccoon was killed by two dogs and subsequently tested positive for rabies. Rabid raccoons have now been found on the north, east and south sides of Roan Mountain State Park.
   "It is imperative that individuals watch their children and pets to ensure they are not exposed to rabies," said Bill Bowery, environmental field office manager with the Carter County Health Department.
   The public must assume that rabies is present throughout the raccoon population, according to regional health officials.
   Since wild animals tend to be nocturnal, Bowery said the presence of a raccoon -- or any wild animal -- during daylight hours was a potential warning that the animal may have rabies.
   Raccoons that have contracted rabies become very aggressive and may attack other animals and/or humans. Health officials report that whenever raccoon rabies pops up in an area, there usually ends up being more cases of rabies in cats and dogs. State law requires dogs or cats to be vaccinated against rabies at the age of three months.
   If a pet is exposed to a rabid animal and is not vaccinated, the alternatives for the pet owner are unpleasant. Health officials say euthanasia is the first recommendation for safety to human and other animals. The other alternative is a six month strictly enforced quarantine of the pet and to vaccinate after five months of quarantine. If the animal has been vaccinated and is exposed to a rabid animal, it is recommended to revaccinate immediately and for the owner to confine and observe the animal for a 45-day period.
   If the owner of the animal does not cooperate, a warrant to remove the animal can be obtained and the animal will either be euthanized or quarantined for the required period of time at the owner's expense.
   Caroline Hurt, director of the Carter and Johnson County health departments, said a rabies vaccination clinic has been scheduled for Saturday, June 14 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Burbank Freewill Baptist Church in Roan Mountain. The cost of the vaccination is $6.50.
   Health officials urge Roan Mountain residents to keep garbage cans covered since raccoons traditionally attempt to obtain food from them. Do not leave any dog or cat food outside as this may also attract raccoons.
   Roan Mountain residents are asked to call the Carter County Health Department or local animal shelter to report a raccoon or wild animal behaving strangely during the day. If a pet or person is attacked or bitten by any abnormal acting animal, the animal should be killed and testing should occur on the animal. Any person exposed to a raccoon and/or another animal suspected of being exposed to a possible rabid raccoon should consult their physician immediately.
   If a pet is directly exposed to a raccoon or other abnormal acting animal, citizens are urged to call their local health department or animal shelter. Any person who fears he or she may have been exposed to a rabid animal are urged to seek medical attention immediately.