MAYVILLE, NY – As part of the ongoing effort to reduce the presence of the rabies virus in wildlife, New York State will once again be taking part in a nationally coordinated effort to halt the spread of raccoon rabies in 15 states. Chautauqua County is one of 15 counties in the state where field evaluations of a new oral rabies vaccine (ORV) called ONRAB will occur. Air and hand distribution of baits will take place in New York from August 2 – 23, 2020. Depending on weather and other scheduling factors, distribution of baits in Chautauqua County is expected to occur between August 8th and 23rd.
The ONRAB bait consists of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) blister pack, containing the vaccine. To make the baits attractive, the blister packs are coated with a sweet attractant that includes vegetable-based fats, wax, icing sugar, vegetable oil, artificial marshmallow flavor, and dark-green food-grade dye. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the bait. However, people who encounter baits directly are asked to leave the bait undisturbed. Should contact with bait occur, immediately rinse the contact area with warm water and soap and contact Chautauqua County Environmental Health Unit at (716) 753-4481. Please do not attempt to remove a bait from your dog’s mouth. The bait will not harm the dog.
The Environmental Health Unit of the Chautauqua County Department of Health & Humans Services has documented two incidents of rabid raccoon bites in Chautauqua County this summer. Both raccoons were killed at the time of attack. One raccoon was identified in the Town of Arkwright and the other was identified in the Town of Ripley.
“The recent rabid raccoon bite incidents should serve as a reminder to residents, particularly outdoor enthusiasts (hikers, hunters, etc.), that animal rabies is a serious public health concern and continues to be present in Chautauqua County” states William Boria, County Director of Environmental Health Services. “Raccoons are, by far, the animal most likely to be rabid in the state.”
The very real and scary fact is that roughly one in ten animals infected by the rabies virus will become aggressive and attack with no provocation. Other rabid animals may appear tame or docile, and well-meaning animal lovers may be tempted to catch and help the animals. People may also hear orphaned animals crying for their mothers and think they need to care for the animals but when people take wild or feral animals home, they create a real danger for their family, particularly children. It is illegal to relocate/harbor wild animals and it’s also very dangerous, especially when children are allowed to handle/play with the animals. Sometimes entire families need to be treated for rabies exposure after an animal has been brought home.
Rabies is a serious public health concern because if left untreated it is invariably fatal. Costs associated with detection, prevention and control of rabies conservatively exceed $500 million annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, greater than 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the United States are in wildlife. The cooperative USDA, APHIS, Wildlife Services National Rabies Management Program (NRMP) was established in 1997 to prevent the further spread of wildlife rabies in the United States by containing and eventually eliminating the virus in terrestrial mammals. The majority of the NRMP efforts are focused on controlling raccoon rabies, which continues to account for most of the reported wildlife rabies cases in the U.S. Raccoon rabies occurs in all states east of the established ORV zone that extends from Maine to northeastern Ohio to northeastern Alabama. Continued access to oral vaccine and bait options that are effective in all target wildlife species remains critical to long term success.
During 2011, the NRMP worked with other Federal, State and local partners to conduct the first raccoon ORV field trial in the U.S. in over 20 years. This field trial was designed to test the safety and immunogenicity of the oral human adenovirus-rabies glycoprotein recombinant vaccine ONRAB (Artemis Technologies, Guelph, Ontario, Canada), which has been successfully integrated into comprehensive rabies control programs that resulted in elimination of raccoon rabies from Canada. Encouraging results from the U.S. trial in West Virginia represented a major milestone that led to expanded evaluations in 4 additional states (NH, NY, OH, and VT) in 2012-2019. Data from these evaluations could lead to licensing of this vaccine for broader, more aggressive management of raccoon rabies by the NRMP and partners, with the goal of eliminating the variant of the rabies virus that cycles in raccoons.
If you have additional questions related to the field trial in New York, please contact the Wildlife Services office in Potsdam, NY at (315) 267-2288 or Lockport NY at (315) 857-4306.