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Forecasting Rabies: What if there were no oral rabies vaccination for wildlife?

In the United States, wildlife accounts for 92 percent of all reported rabies cases. The raccoon rabies virus variant, in particular, is responsible for significant spillover infection into dogs and cats, as well as other wildlife. The benefits of maintaining the oral rabies vaccination (ORV) zone in the eastern United States are significant for several public health, agricultural, and wildlife management reasons. Specific benefits include reductions in human post-exposure prophylaxis, reductions in livestock and pet losses, and the protection of wildlife resources.

Map of the potential spread of raccoon rabies by 2-year increments if the ORV zone were no longer maintained.

To better quantify the benefits of the ORV program, NWRC researchers and partners modeled the spread of raccoon rabies over 20 years in the absence of current ORV activities. The forecast included 10 raccoon rabies spread-expansion regions each representing a 2-year timeframe. The combined 10 regions show the extent raccoon rabies is projected to spread after a 20-year period without ORV intervention. The forecast models incorporated three different rates of spread: low (15 km/year), medium (30 km/year), and high (60 km/year) based on historical rates of raccoon rabies spread in the eastern United States. Over the 20-year horizon, spread would extend as far west as the Texas border and western Iowa. However, over a longer time period, the spread would likely continue to the Rocky Mountains, where harsh winters and unsuitable habitat might prevent any further westward movement. Such forecasting information aids managers in determining the costs and benefits associated with ORV programs.

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