USDA to Vaccinate Raccoons in Appalachia via Aircraft Drops

Photo: Raccoon, courtesy of Bastique
Photo: Raccoon, courtesy of Bastique

The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced that it will begin distributing oral rabies vaccines via aircraft over Appalachia.

The program is aimed at vaccinating the region’s raccoon population against an outbreak of rabies viruses in hopes of preventing the westward spread of raccoon rabies in the eastern United States.

According to information listed on USDA website, the program is part of a larger initiative aimed at distributing vaccines to wildlife. Bait packets will be distributed from the air to certain targeted areas from Vermont as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee.

Areas in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia are expected to have vaccine bait dropped via aircraft from late-August to mid-October 2019.

It total, approximately 709,000 coated sachet baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be distributed across an 8,500 square mile bait zone in Southwest Virginia.  The baits will be distributed by low flying aircraft throughout the vaccination area.

According to USDA officials, “As the oral rabies vaccination baits are aerially distributed, a navigator controls the bait machine and turns off the machine as necessary to avoid dropping baits on roadways, structures, large bodies of water, etc.”

Each bait is marked with a toll-free number (877-722-6725) for people to call for assistance or information if they find or come in contact with a bait.

The ONRAB bait is a blister pack filled with the vaccine and coated with a sweet attractant. When an animal bites into one of the baits it will release the vaccine into their mouth and, with an adequate dose, develop immunity to rabies. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the bait, but are asked to leave the bait undisturbed if they encounter it. If contact with bait occurs, the contact area should be immediately rinsed with warm water and soap.

Wildlife officials say that rabies is a serious public health concern. While rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, it is also 100 percent preventable. Human exposures can be successfully remedied if medical attention is sought immediately following exposure. Costs associated with detection, prevention and control of rabies exceed $600 million annually in the United States. According to the CDC, about 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the U.S. are in wildlife.

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