Rabies case involving shelter puppy confirmed in Johnson City


Editor’s note: In order to be tested for rabies, an animal must be euthanized and parts of the brain tested, according to the CDC. The infected puppy was euthanized before a test came back positive, and that was not clear in the original article.

JOHNSON CITY, TENN. (WJHL) – Health department officials confirmed the investigation into a case of rabies in Johnson City.

Dr. David Kirschke, medical director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, said the case involved a puppy that a family adopted from a local shelter.

Several days after being adopted, Kirschke said, the puppy began behaving strangely, prompting the family to take it to a veterinarian. A rabies test came back positive.

Tammy Davis, director for the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter, confirmed the puppy came from a litter of five that was up for adoption at the shelter last week.

She said staff members at the shelter followed regular protocol by placing the puppies in isolation for five days to check for illness. The puppies got their parvo, distemper and kennel cough vaccines before going to the adoption floor.

“The puppies all appeared to be very healthy, no issues or anything to send any kind of red flag at all,” Davis said.

She said while a vet visits the shelter weekly to give rabies vaccinations, the puppies were too young for them.

Rabies vaccines are typically administered to puppies when they are three to four months old, she added.

A few days later, she said the health department notified her that one of the adopted puppies tested positive for the virus.

Taking action

Kirschke said the health department led the investigation into the rabies case and contacted everyone who had contact with the infected puppy.

While he said the virus can be transmitted through a bite, he stressed that rabies travels in saliva, so transmission can also occur if infected saliva gets into the mouth, eyes, nose or an open wound.

He said rabies cases are more common with wild animals. Domestic animals, he said, typically don’t transmit the virus unless they are showing symptoms.

Symptoms of rabies in animals include excessive salivating, lethargy and refusal to eat or drink.

“Unless you’ve had contact with an animal that’s known to have rabies, there’s not concern,” he said. “We’ve tracked down everyone that we know has had contact with this animal.”

Kirschke said the health department recommended rabies prevention treatment to several people known to have contact with the infected puppy.

The infected puppy has been euthanized, Davis said.

Davis said at the time she learned there was a rabies case, two of the original litter of puppies were still at the shelter and were euthanized for safety.

She stressed that the puppy wasn’t showing symptoms of rabies while it was at the shelter.

Health department officials determined the puppy was infected before it arrived at the shelter, but the chance that it passed the virus to other animals or humans is small.

“People that had any exposure that was concerning for transmission of rabies, a bite or saliva that gets into mouth, nose, eyes or open cut, we recommended they get preventative treatment,” Kirschke said.

Davis said the shelter hasn’t seen a rabies case like this one in more than 10 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies can take several weeks or months to show symptoms in infected animals.

The state health department’s most recent rabies data reports 10 rabies cases for the year as of June 29 – all reports of wild animals including skunks, bats and raccoons.

“There is nothing that we could have done differently here,” Davis said. “Typically, rabies is the last thing we would be concerned about. Our concern is always parvo or distemper.

“We followed every protocol that we’ve had in place to make sure that the puppies appeared healthy and were healthy to the best of our knowledge.”

Anyone concerned about exposure to rabies should contact the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office at 423-979-3200.

View the Tennessee Department of Health rabies guide HERE.

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