NEW ORLEANS – The United States Department of Agriculture has begun dropping millions of packets of oral rabies vaccine from helicopters and planes in 13 states, from Maine to Alabama.
The main goal is to prevent raccoons from spreading their strain of the deadly virus to states where it hasn’t been found or isn’t prevalent, said Jordona Kirby, field trial coordinator.
The USDA is also continuing testing of a vaccine approved in Canada to immunize skunks as well as raccoons, said Kirby of Wildlife Services, part of the Department of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Agriculture.
Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through bites. However, saliva that gets into the eyes, nose or mouth can also infect someone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thirteen people in South Carolina were considered potentially at risk in March because they bottle-fed or gave medicine to a sick calf that turned out to have rabies, said Dr. Michael Neault, the veterinarian at the ‘State.
Globally, the virus kills 60,000 people a year, most bitten by dogs, according to the World Health Organization.
That’s about the same number of people who receive injections to prevent rabies in the United States after being bitten or scratched by an infected or potentially infected animal, according to the CDC.
State and local pet vaccination laws mean the virus is primarily spread by wildlife in the United States
The national rabies control program began in 1997 in Texas, where coyotes spread the canine variant of the virus, Kirby said.
She said vaccine drops eliminated this variant in 2004. Three years later, the CDC declared the country free of canine rabies.
This does not mean that unvaccinated animals are safe. Canine rabies is one of more than 20 variants – seven found in land mammals and more than 13 in bat species, said rabies control program coordinator Richard Chipman.
A bite from an animal infected with any variant can sicken any other mammal. Scratches sometimes do, because animals lick their paws.
A three-year program in Arizona and New Mexico eliminated a strain of bat rabies in foxes, Kirby said. And Texas, with the help of the USDA, dropped 1.1 million baits along the Mexican border in January to prevent coyotes from bringing back the canine variant.
Raccoons are the main reservoir of rabies in 18 states along and near the East Coast and skunks in 21 others, according to data from 2020, the latest year available.
Bats made up 31% of the nearly 4,500 animals found with rabies in 2020. But since nearly all of the more than 40 species of bats found in the United States eat insects and the rest drink nectar or eat fruit, oral vaccines would be much trickier.
Some scientists have speculated that bats could be vaccinated during hibernation, perhaps with a fine mist or with a gel that could be transferred from bat to bat, Chipman said. Early research is testing the idea in vampire bats, which live in Mexico and Central and South America and could spread such a vaccine within a colony by grooming each other.
Rabid wildlife is not just a rural problem. A rabid fox on Capitol Hill was captured less than 24 hours after it was first reported in April. At that time, about half a dozen people had reported bites or bites to US Capitol police, but others may have come to other agencies, a doorman said. Capitol Police word via email.
Raccoon rabies campaigns began in August in parts of northern Maine, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. The 348,000 Raboral V-RG baits in Maine and 535,000 in the other three states are dropped from aircraft in rural areas and from vehicles in urban and suburban areas.
A total of about 3.75 million packets — coated in fishmeal attractant or encased in 1-inch fishmeal cubes — will be distributed in nine states, ending when 1.1 million are dropped in Alabama in October.
The vaccine has been shown to be safe for more than 60 species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Eating a large number of vaccine packets could give dogs an upset stomach but wouldn’t cause any permanent problems, APHIS says.
About 3.5 million doses of the experimental Onrab vaccine are being distributed in parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee – which also receive the approved vaccine – as well as four other states.
Onrab comes in blister packs with a marshmallow-flavored green coating. Wildlife services hope it can be approved next year despite continued pandemic-related delays.
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