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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Making Rabies History


Making Rabies History

graphic for world rabies dayOn September 28, doctors, scientists, health care specialists, veterinarians, and wildlife biologists from around the globe will celebrate “World Rabies Day” by raising awareness about efforts to rid the world of rabies. Rabies is one of the oldest known viral diseases, yet it remains a significant wildlife-management and public-health challenge.

USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) is proud to support efforts to eliminate this deadly disease in wildlife. The WS National Rabies Management Program works to prevent the spread of wildlife rabies in the United States through the delivery of oral rabies vaccines to wild animals, particularly raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and gray foxes. In addition to working toward eliminating rabies where it already exists, WS also works with States to monitor uninfected areas. In support of these efforts, the NWRC provides scientific expertise to help improve vaccine delivery and effectiveness, as well as disease monitoring methods. NWRC scientists also develop new tools and technologies to combat the disease.

Finding Solutions

Devising ways to increase rabies vaccination rates is a primary goal for the NWRC's rabies research team. Scientists are working with private companies to improve oral vaccines through the addition of adjuvants and thickeners. Wild mammals are immunized for rabies by ingesting a liquid vaccine which is held in a plastic sachet and surrounded by edible bait. Because the vaccine is in a liquid state, it is vulnerable to spillage following puncture of the sachet. Spillage, in turn, may result in an animal not receiving enough vaccine. To address this problem, researchers are evaluating whether natural additives can thicken the liquid vaccine and act as adjuvants to enhance the immune response. This work may improve the effectiveness of the oral rabies vaccine, decrease the need for an animal to consume multiple vaccine baits, and potentially result in cost-savings to the WS oral rabies vaccination (ORV) program.

Another area of focus is the use of contraceptive vaccines, such as the GonaConTM Immunocontraceptive Vaccine, for feral dogs. GonaCon was developed by NWRC scientists and is the first single-shot, multi-year wildlife contraceptive for use in mammals. Though canine rabies was eradicated from the United States in 2007, the risk of reintroduction or cross over from wildlife populations is still high in areas with feral and free-ranging dogs. Rabies continues to challenge public health systems in developing countries, especially Africa and Asia, where many of the estimated 55,000 to 65,000 annual human rabies deaths occur. In these areas, the threat of rabies being transmitted to humans from feral and free-ranging dogs increases as dog populations and densities go up. NWRC scientists and partners are currently conducting studies to explore whether a combined series of rabies and GonaCon vaccines would be an effective strategy for reducing stray dog populations and the occurrence of rabies.

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