JOHNSON CITY, TENN. (WJHL) – Ministry of Health officials confirmed the investigation into a rabies case in Johnson City.
Dr. David Kirschke, medical director of the Regional Health Office in Northeast Tennessee, said it was a puppy adopted by a family from a local shelter.
A few days after his adoption, Kirschke said, the puppy started behaving strangely and asked the family to take him to a vet. A rabies test came back positive.
Tammy Davis, director of the Washington County / Johnson City Animal Shelter, confirmed that the puppy came from a litter of five animals that was adopted at the shelter last week.
She said that the shelter's staff followed the regular protocol by keeping the puppies isolated for five days to check for illness. The puppies received their vaccinations against parvo, distemper and kennel cough before they went to the adoption floor.
"The puppies all seemed to be very healthy, no problems or anything to send a red flag at all," Davis said.
She said that while a veterinarian visits the shelter weekly for rabies vaccinations, she says the puppies are too young for her.
Rabies vaccines are usually given to puppies at the age of three to four months, she added.
A few days later, she announced that the health department had told her that one of the adopted puppies had been tested positive for the virus.
Kirschke said the health department was conducting the investigation into the rabies case and contacted anyone who had contact with the infected puppy.
While saying that the virus can be transmitted through a bite, he emphasized that rabies migrates in the saliva so that transmission can occur even if infected saliva enters the mouth, eyes, nose or open wound.
He said that rabies cases are more common in wild animals. Pets, he said, usually transmit the virus only if they show symptoms.
The symptoms of rabies in animals include excessive salivation, lethargy and the refusal to eat or drink.
"Unless you have had contact with an animal known to have rabies, there is no concern," he said. "We tracked down anyone we know had contact with this animal."
Kirschke said the health department recommends rabies prevention treatment to several people known to have contact with the infected puppy.
The infected puppy was euthanized, Davis said.
Davis said that when she learned that there was a rabies case, two of the original puppy litter were still in the shelter and were euthanized for safety reasons.
She emphasized that the puppy in the shelter did not show any signs of rabies.
Ministry of Health officials found that the puppy had been infected before arriving at the shelter, but the likelihood of transferring the virus to other animals or humans is low.
"People who have had any exposure involving the transmission of rabies, a bite, or saliva that gets in their mouth, nose, eyes, or open-cut, have recommended preventative treatment," Kirschke said.
Davis said the shelter has not seen a rabies case like this for more than 1
The State Department of Health's latest rabies data reports 10 rabies cases for the year from June 29th – all reports of wild animals, including skunks, bats, and raccoons.
"There is nothing we could have done differently here," Davis said. "Rabies is usually the last thing we would worry about. Our concern is always parvo or distemper.
"We have followed every protocol to ensure that the puppies looked healthy to the best of their knowledge and belief." Rabies should contact the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office at 423-979-3200.
The rabies leader of the Tennessee Department of Health can be found HERE.