Rabies is a virus that affects the central nervous system in mammals and is almost always transmitted through saliva when an infected animal bites an uninfected animal or person. Rabies is invariably fatal if left untreated.
Effective vaccines are available to protect people and pets. Wildlife accounted for more than 90 percent of all reported rabies cases each year in the United States. Several different variants of the rabies virus exist in this country, and all variants are capable of infecting mammals, including humans. Raccoons, bats, and skunks are
responsible for most reported cases, but foxes and coyotes also commonly transmit the disease.
USDA Wildlife Services (WS) helps alleviate or minimize wildlife damage to agricultural, urban, and natural resources. An important part of WS’ mission includes assisting in wildlife disease-management to protect public health and safety and animal health.
Map of States with an oral rabies vaccination program. Since 1997, WS has been working cooperatively with local, State, and Federal governments; universities; and other partners to manage rabies in wild carnivores through education, surveillance, and oral rabies vaccination (ORV). A vaccination zone has been established from Maine to Alabama to prevent the westward and northward spread of raccoon rabies. Geographic features such as large lakes and rivers as well as the Appalachian Mountains act as natural barriers that help define the vaccination zone. Annually from 2005 to 2010, 6.5 to 9.5 million oral rabies vaccine-laden baits have been distributed targeting raccoon rabies
in 15 eastern states.
In addition to working toward eliminating rabies where it already exists, WS also works with States to monitor uninfected areas near the vaccination zones. If a positive case was found, a contingency action
plan may be implemented. Contingency actions often include WS personnel and cooperators’ conducting
enhanced rabies surveillance. WS may also trap raccoons and skunks to vaccinate them against the
disease and then return them to the wild. Oral rabies baits containing vaccine also may be distributed
where the first case or cases originated to create immunity and prevent rabies from spreading.
Distributing the Vaccine The baits manufactured by Merial Inc., consist of either a coated sachet (a catsup-sized plastic packet coated with fishmeal attractant) or an uncoated sachet encased within a fishmeal bait about the size of a matchbox. The sachet contains the Raboral V-RG® oral rabies vaccine.
Oral rabies vaccine is distributed mostly by air, but some residential or other populated areas may be baited by hand. Fixed-wing aircraft are the most effective means for dispersing large numbers of the ORV baits over rural areas. Hand baiting is used in urban and suburban areas to increase the likelihood of raccoons finding the baits while reducing the chance of people or domestic animals coming into contact with the vaccine.
If you discover a bait, the best action is to leave it where you found it. Do not attempt to remove a bait from the mouth of your pet; doing so may cause you to be bitten. This vaccine cannot cause rabies and is safe if eaten by domestic dogs and cats. It has been tested on more than 60 animal species with no adverse effects. If you come into contact with the pink-liquid vaccine contained within the bait, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and call USDA’s WS office toll free at 1–866–4USDA–WS (1–866–487–3297) for further instructions and referral.
ORV baits are a sachet—or plastic packet—that contains the rabies vaccine. When a raccoon bites into a bait, the sachet ruptures, allowing the vaccine to make contact in the animal’s mouth and throat. Animals that have contact with an adequate dose of the vaccine develop antibodies against rabies. As the number of vaccinated animals in the population increases, the ability to transmit the disease decreases.
Determining the Effectiveness of the Program
After baits have been distributed and raccoons have had a chance to ingest them, WS works with its cooperators to measure the success of the ORV campaign. Live-traps are set and checked daily. These traps
are affixed with labels in case individuals discover a trapped animal and wish to contact WS. All captured
raccoons are temporarily anesthetized so that blood samples can be taken and a small, single-rooted
premolar tooth may be removed. Once the anesthesia has worn off, the raccoons are released back into the
wild at their capture sites.
All samples are sent to cooperating laboratories such as the rabies laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA, where the rabies antibody level for each raccoon sample is determined. Tooth samples are sent to laboratories for examination to determine the animal’s age and if their tooth contains a tetracycline biomarker indicating whether one or more baits were ingested. The biomarker causes the formation of a tissue layer in tooth and bone visible under a fluorescent microscope.
Expertise from a variety of sources, including public health, wildlife, and agricultural agencies, is integral to
the team-centered approach for rabies prevention and control. WS provides a variety of technical and operational services for rabies management, including assistance with effective disease and wildlife population
surveillance, a continuing commitment to the development of additional species-specific oral vaccines, and improved strategies to prevent human exposure to rabies.
Protect Yourself from Rabies
As the cost of living with rabies in the United States exceeds $300 million a year, it is important to educate
the public about how to keep from contracting this disease.
Listed below are helpful hints on how to reduce the possibility of contracting the rabies virus.
• Do not touch or pick up wild animals or stray domestic animals.
• Properly vaccinate all family pets against rabies.
• Report unknown or strangely acting animals to your local animal control officer or, if the animal is wild, to wildlife officials.
• Do not make your yard inviting to wild animals. Remove trash and secure garbage cans. Do not leave pet food outside.
• Keep family pets indoors at night. During the day, do not let them roam.
If You Are Bitten
• Immediately wash the bite with soap and water for five minutes
• Try to capture the animal only if you can do so without receiving additional bites or other injuries.
• Immediately report the bite to your doctor and your local health officer.
For more information, please visit the National Rabies
Management Program’s Web site at www.aphis.usda.
gov/wildlife_damage/rabies/index.html or call 1-8664USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297) to contact your WS State office.
United States Department of Agriculture
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is an equal opportunity provider and employer.