Healthy people, families, and communities.


Public Health reminds pet owners to vaccinate pets against rabies


Baits laced with an oral rabies vaccine designed to help stem the spread of a raccoon strain of the deadly disease through Georgia and into other states will be dropped from the air and scattered by hand in six north/northwest Georgia counties -- Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Murray, Walker and Whitfield -- beginning in early October. Ground baiting by hand in urban/suburban areas will begin October 6. Aerial baiting in rural areas by specially equipped fixed-wing aircraft is scheduled to begin October 7.


Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits, but area residents are asked to leave them undisturbed should they encounter them. Dogs that consume large numbers of baits may experience an upset stomach, but there are no long-term health risks. If contact with baits occurs, immediately rinse the contact area with warm water and soap.


Most of the 626,000 baits to be distributed will be gone from the environment within 10 to 14 days after being dropped. A toll-free number is imprinted on each bait allowing anyone who comes in contact with the bait to call for advice, assistance or with any questions.


According to Northwest Georgia Public Health’s Environmental Health Director Tim Allee, “sixty percent of the confirmed animal rabies cases in our ten northwest Georgia counties since 2011 have been raccoons. We know they are a primary cause of rabies spillover into our pet population.”


“Rabies is always circulating in our wild animal population,” Allee says, “so we’re always concerned about domestic animals becoming infected when they are bitten by rabid wild animals. When spillover rabies occurs in domestic animals, the risk to humans is increased.”


Distribution of the rabies vaccine-laced baits will help establish an immune barrier to halt the further spread of the raccoon strain of rabies through Georgia and into other states. The barrier runs through northwest Georgia, southeast Tennessee and northeast Alabama.


 Acknowledging the usefulness of the oral rabies vaccination program in helping reduce the incidence of animal rabies in northwest Georgia, Allee is quick to emphasize that “getting your pet vaccinated against rabies is the single best way to protect your pet and yourself from rabies. It’s important to do it for their protection, for our protection and because it’s state law. So get your dog or cat vaccinated.” Allee reminds that in Georgia rabies vaccinations can be administered only by a licensed veterinarian.


According to Allee, rabies is extremely rare in humans in the United States because mandatory vaccinations have protected pets and because treatment is so effective for people. Worldwide, however, an estimated 55,000 people die annually.


Unfortunately, Georgia is a leader nationally in animal rabies. Georgia routinely confirms 370 or more rabies cases a year, mostly after somebody has been bitten. In 2012 it had 373 compared to 48 in Tennessee, 54 in Alabama, 109 in Florida and 137 in South Carolina in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Georgia also had more people treated for rabies exposure than 45 other states with 1,197 treated annually on average, according to a 2009 CDC study. The five states ahead of Georgia dwarfed it in population: New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida and California.


The oral rabies vaccination program is a yearly project involving federal and state agencies, including the United States Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services (USDA/WS), the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


To reduce the possibility of contracting the rabies virus, you should:


  • visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets, and dogs,


  • maintain control of your pets by keeping cats and ferrets indoors and keeping dogs under direct supervision,


  • spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or vaccinated regularly,


  • do not make your yard inviting to wild animals, remove trash and secure garbage cans, don’t leave pet food outside,


  • keep family pets indoors at night, don’t let them roam during the day,


  • report unknown or strangely acting animals to your local animal


  • control officer or, if the animal is wild, to wildlife officials,


  • call animal control to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill, do not touch or pick up wild animals or stray domestic animals,


  • if you are bitten, immediately was the bite with soap and water for five minutes,


  • try to capture the animal only if you can do so without receiving additional bites or other injuries and


  • immediately report the bite to your doctor and your local public health department.


For more information about rabies vaccination, contact your local health department of animal control office. For additional information about rabies, visit


For additional information about the 2014 Oral Rabies Vaccine Program, visit