The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services, in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Health, will distribute vaccine baits in a new area of eastern Ohio this month. USDA continues to seek the public's help as it works to determine the frequency of rabies in eastern Ohio raccoons. Anyone who encounters a raccoon that is sick-acting or behaving unusually is asked to report the animal.
Increased surveillance and previously unscheduled baiting in eastern Ohio is underway because of recent rabies-positive animals in Stark County. This spring, two raccoons have tested positive for the raccoon variant, or variety, of rabies in Stark County, where it was not previously reported.
The baiting will use an oral rabies vaccine (ORV) bait, called ONRAB, which consists of a blister pack filled with the vaccine and coated with a sweet attractant. They may be distributed using fixed wing aircraft or by helicopter. The ONRAB vaccine is being tested to determine how effectively it can control the disease in an active outbreak area where ORV baiting has never occurred. ONRAB has been safely distributed in other parts of Ohio since 2012 as part of ongoing field trials to evaluate the safety and immune effects of the ORV bait in raccoons, skunks and other wildlife.
This ORV bait has been shown to be safe in many species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits, but are asked to leave them undisturbed should they encounter them. If contact with baits occurs, immediately rinse the contact area with warm water and soap. For photos of the baits and other aspects of the ORV project, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/sets/72157623983143606/
The spring ORV bait distribution will begin May 22 and continue through approximately May 28 in portions of Carroll, Columbiana, and Stark counties. Residents of Alliance, Canton, East Canton, Malvern, Minerva, and Waynesburg may see low-flying aircraft (planes and helicopters) dropping the baits. This effort will distribute approximately 330,000 ORV baits and the effort will be repeated in August 2017 as part of a larger rabies baiting project.
The public in these areas is asked to report any dead raccoons, including those struck by vehicles, or live raccoons acting in an unusual way. In towns and suburbs, seeing raccoons during the day is not unusual. Any raccoon, however, that appears to be friendly, unafraid, or sick (staggering, unsteady or aggressive) should be reported. Calls should be made to 330-726-3386 or to your local county health department. USDA biologists or specialists will respond and remove the animal or carcass to test it for rabies.
Signs suggestive of rabies 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, it is also 100% preventable. Human exposures can be successfully remedied if medical attention is sought immediately following exposure.
Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system in mammals and represents a serious public health concern. If exposures to the virus are not treated it is almost always fatal. Costs associated with detection, prevention and control of rabies exceed $300 million annually in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the U.S. are in wildlife. People are urged not to make contact with or feed wildlife and to keep their pets' rabies vaccinations current.
As part of the USDA National Rabies Management Program, oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits have been distributed in Ohio through aerial drops and by hand since 1997 in partnership with state and local public health agencies and others. This effort seeks to prevent the westward spread of raccoon rabies by creating a barrier along the Appalachian Mountains from the Canadian border to Alabama.
For more information about the National Rabies Management Program, visit: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/programs/nrmp.