Gov. hopes to stop spread of raccoon rabies
On August 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, with supporting agencies, will begin its annual raccoon rabies vaccine baiting program in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia counties, including four that border Great Smoky Mountains National Park—Cocke and Sevier Counties, Tenn., and Haywood and Swain Counties, N.C.
During a two week period, oral rabies vaccine consisting of small fishmeal baits will be distributed by aircraft in rural areas and by vehicles in urban/residential areas to immunize wild raccoons for rabies.
In an effort to stop the westward spread of the raccoon rabies, biologists hope to vaccinate a population of raccoons to create an immune barrier in these states. This barrier will help to prevent the spread of the disease from the eastern states where the disease is widespread to states with low outbreaks. The bait zone has been expanded about 20 percent over 2005. Aircraft will scatter baits that contain a liquid vaccine inside fishmeal coated plastic packets known to attract raccoons. Ground crews will distribute small cubed baits that consist of a compressed mixture of fishmeal and fish oil. When the raccoon bites into the bait, the sachet is ruptured allowing the vaccine to flow into the raccoon’s mouth and throat. Most of the baits will be gone within 10 – 14 days after A
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the vaccine poses no threat to people or pets. USDA officials advise that people should not handle the baits, but if the baits drop in locations accessible to pets, the baits can be removed and disposed of using gloves or a towel to avoid getting the strong, fishy smell on their hands.
“Visitors to the Park may come across these baits where they have been dropped, and they should be left alone” said Kim Delozier, Park Wildlife Biologist. “Dogs are not allowed on trails and in the backcountry and must be kept on a leash in developed areas so contact is unlikely.”
Delozier commented that “the Park has never had a raccoon that tested positive for rabies and it our hope that this vaccination program will help protect Park’s wildlife and visitors from the disease in the future. However, four bats have tested positive for rabies over the past 15 years which is a different strain from the raccoon rabies. As with all wild animals, visitors should always avoid direct contact with animals and should not touch any wildlife, especially those that appear injured or sick.”
For more information on animal bait exposure and prevention or the raccoon oral rabies vaccination program in general, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/ws/rabies/ or contact USDA toll free at 1-866-487-3297.