State officials plan to use airplanes and helicopters this month to help control the spread of raccoon rabies in northeast and north central Alabama.
The Alabama Department of Public Health and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division are teaming up to give raccoons an oral rabies vaccine (ORV) from Oct. 5-15 in select areas of Blount, Cherokee, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Limestone, Madison, Marshall and Morgan counties.
Most of the vaccine will be dropped in low-population areas with planes and helicopters. Some ORVs will be distributed by truck and workers on foot in Collinsville, Fort Payne, Gadsden, Henager, Leesburg, Sylvania and a small portion of Huntsville.
ADPH said vaccinating raccoons reduces the risk of passing rabies to humans or their pets.
“It is important to not only let people know the beneficial aspects of the vaccine efforts, but to let them know ahead of time there is going to be ORV in the area,” said Dee W. Jones, State Public Health veterinarian, in a statement. “We don’t want people to be shocked to find a vaccine packet and let anxiety undermine the overall cause.”
Jordona Kirby of the USDA said they will distribute approximately 1 million baits in Alabama this year. Each rabies vaccine costs a little more than $1 each, she added.
“Comparatively, the cost of living with the burden of rabies in the U.S. each year exceeds $300 million in costs associated with post-exposure prophylaxis, pet vaccinations, educational programs, and animal control,” she said.
While the packets will be placed in raccoon habitats, it’s possible the vaccines may end up in residential areas, such as yards or driveways. The state said exposure to the vaccine will not result in a rabies infection.
Each vaccine is placed inside of a plastic satchet that is coated with bait, such as fishmeal crumbs, to attract raccoons. Another version of the vaccine has a hard outer covering of bait over the satchet.
“Regardless of the type of bait used, raccoons are exposed to the vaccine after they eat the bait and puncture the plastic packet,” the state said.
If you or your pet finds the vaccine, here are some tips:
Avoid direct skin contact by always wearing gloves or using a plastic bag to remove or relocate the vaccine packet.
A found, still intact vaccine packet can be moved to the woods where a raccoon may find it or it may be disposed of in the trash if pets are likely to contact it again. If the plastic cover is opened or punctured, the packet should be thrown in the trash using gloves.
If the ORV is in a pet’s mouth, it is not recommended to remove it because of the risk of injury from a bite and to avoid potential bare-skin contact with the vaccine.
The vaccine is generally not harmful to pets and only very rarely requires any veterinary medical attention. There is no risk of pets contracting rabies from the vaccine, but mild gastrointestinal upset is the most common occurrence after eating the vaccine packets. Oral lesions are possible, but are much less common. Consultation with a veterinarian is recommended for any persistent clinical signs after exposure to the vaccine packets.
Jones said the program is completely funded by the federal government. Contact ADPH at 1-800-338-8374 for additional details.