WASHINGTON, May 3, 2011--The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will distribute oral rabies vaccine baits beginning on or around May 9 to reduce the incidence of raccoon rabies in parts of west-central Florida as part of ongoing cooperative rabies control efforts aimed at raccoon rabies elimination.
In cooperation with the Pasco County and Pinellas County Animal Services, 2,700 oral rabies vaccination (ORV) baits targeting raccoons will be distributed by bait stations in four nine-square-kilometer areas. The area includes southern Pinellas County and the J. B. Starkey Wilderness Area in Pasco County. Up to 60 bait stations (a distribution mechanism for ORV baits) will be positioned strategically where raccoons are likely to travel in southern Pinellas County. Personnel from USDA's wildlife services program will be asking residents of southern Pinellas County locales for permission to place the stations on their properties to effectively test the stations.
Since 1995, APHIS, and its cooperators have been working to eliminate raccoon rabies from Florida because the virus poses a threat to wildlife populations, pets and public health and safety. In an effort to eliminate the influx of rabies specifically in Pinellas County, APHIS began cooperative efforts there in 2003 and has been using their ideal landscape for testing raccoon-rabies elimination strategies. In 1995, Pinellas County reported 30 rabies cases; that number decreased to 1 reported case in 2009.
ORV baits are coated with a fishmeal attractant and will be packaged in one-inch square cubes. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits. The public is asked to leave the baits undisturbed should they encounter them. This vaccine has been shown to be safe in more than 60 different species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Dogs that consume large numbers of baits may experience an upset stomach, but there are no long-term health risks.
Most sightings of rabid raccoons occur during the spring and summer when people are more likely to come into contact with wildlife. Raccoon rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the central nervous system in mammals. Signs include unusual, aggressive or calm and “friendly” behavior, an inability to eat or drink, balance problems, circling, seizures, coma and finally death. While rabies is fatal, human exposures can be successfully treated, if treatment is sought immediately following a bite.
Since 1997, APHIS has been working to establish a rabies-free barrier in the eastern United States where the raccoon variant of rabies is known to exist. In addition to this work in Florida, APHIS has coordinated cooperative rabies control efforts in Alabama, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
For additional information concerning the raccoon oral rabies vaccine program, please visit ww.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/oral_rabies/index.shtml or contact APHIS' wildlife services toll free at 1-866-4-USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297).