Tenn. health officials alert thousands over rabies at horse show

Published 4:34 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tennessee’s Department of Health has alerted about 4,200 people who attended a horse show several weeks ago that one of the animals tested positive for rabies, but an official said it is unlikely the disease spread during the show.

John Dunn, a medical epidemiologist, said Tuesday letters were sent out Monday to attendees in 34 states, Canada and Germany.

The letters say a horse from Waynesville, Mo., became ill during the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration held in Shelbyville from Aug. 23-Sept. 2 and could have spread the disease to people or other horses.

However, the chance of rabies spreading to people or other horses is rare, Dunn said.

“Rabies can only be contracted through the bite of an infected animal,” Dunn said. “There is also a small potential for contraction through a large amount of saliva in a fresh open wound, or in contact with the nose, eyes, or mouth.”

The letter asks that people contact the department if they believe they had direct contact with the infected horse.

The horse’s owners first noticed the animal was ill on Aug. 28 while at the show about 50 miles south of Nashville. It was later euthanized. Dunn said the type of rabies found in the horse was commonly spread through bats and health officials believe the horse was bitten in Missouri.

Rabies cases among horses is rare and the state has had less than five cases in the last 10 years, Dunn said. Human rabies also is rare but almost always fatal unless people who are exposed receive medical treatment before the disease develops.

The health department has assessed individuals who worked directly with the horse for possible rabies exposure.

The horse was owned by 4J Land and Cattle Company, but the 3-year-old gelding named “Buck” or “Bucky” did not compete, according the health department’s letter.

Letters were sent to all exhibitors, owners and trainers who registered for the event and anyone who purchased reserved tickets for the show.

“People who just attended and didn’t have direct exposure with the infected horse — those people are not at risk,” Dunn said. “They don’t have anything to be concerned about.”

Dunn said the department does not believe the horse infected any other horses at the event.

The Tennessee Department of Health Public Information Line can be reached toll-free at (866) 355-6129.

On the Net:

Tennessee Department of Health: http://www.state.tn.us/health/