Program Underway to Reduce Spread of Rabies in Raccoons

Submitted by gallagha on Thu, 08/12/2021 - 08:42


MAYVILLE, N.Y.: – 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 16 states. Ongoing field evaluation of an oral rabies vaccine (ORV) called ONRAB will occur in New York and Vermont including in Chautauqua and other western New York counties. These sites were selected in part because of ongoing collaborations with partners from Canada to protect human and animal health and reduce significant costs associated with living with rabies across broad geographic areas.


Aerial and hand distribution of ONRAB baits is taking place in New York from July 26 – August 24, 2021.  Depending on weather and other scheduling factors, distribution of baits in Chautauqua County is expected to occur from August 18th to 20th.  The baits will be dropped in the northern area of Chautauqua County by a low flying airplane.  This includes an area from the Village of Brocton, and Towns of Portland, Arkwright, and Villenova.  The area extends north into parts of Erie and Cattaraugus counties.


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 them undisturbed. 


While the baits are not harmful to humans or pets, if human contact with bait occurs, immediately rinse the contact area with warm water and soap.  If dogs contact the bait do not attempt to remove bait from your dog’s mouth, it will not harm the dog if ingested.


The Chautauqua County Department of Health & Humans Services encourages residents to be mindful of wildlife and leave wild animals alone when they are encountered. This year there has been one incident of a rabid raccoon biting an individual and last year there were two separate incidents of rabid raccoon bites in Chautauqua County.  These incidents resulted in the raccoons being killed and then tested for rabies. However, if a raccoon or bat has been handled by a person and released, it is unknown if the animal was rabid, resulting in a potential rabies exposure and treatment for rabies through a series of rabies vaccine shots.  If a person is exposed to rabies and not treated, it almost always results in death.  


“These relatively recent incidents serve as a reminder to residents, particularly outdoor enthusiasts, like hikers or hunters, that rabies is a serious public health concern and continues to be present in Chautauqua County,” said William Boria, County Director of Environmental Health Services.  “Raccoons and other wild animals should be avoided and never handled when encountered.”


“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,” said Boria.  “People may hear orphaned animals crying for their mother and think they need to care for the animals.  However, when people take wild or feral animals home they create a real danger for themselves and their families.”


It is illegal to relocate or harbor wild animals and it’s also very dangerous.  An entire family may need to be treated for rabies exposure after an animal has been brought home. 


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 U.S. 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 central 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 has been successfully integrated into comprehensive rabies control programs that resulted in elimination of raccoon rabies from Canada. Encouraging results are also being seen in the U.S. with the goal of eliminating the variant of the rabies virus that cycles in raccoons. 

If you have questions about the bait, call the USDA Rabies Hotline at (888) 574-6656.  If you have general questions about the ONRAB program in New York, please contact the Wildlife Services office in Rensselaer, NY at (518) 268-2289.  If you have questions about rabies in Chautauqua County call (716) 753-4481.  Visit the USDA website at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife-damage/rabies for a link to a current map of the bait drop area and to learn more about the National Rabies Management Program.


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