Annual rabies bait drop begins

Courtesy photo
Approximately 450,000 of these quarter-sized blister packs of rabies vaccine are being dropped from low-flying aircraft in rural areas of Vermont.

The 23rd annual Rabies Bait Drop, a cooperative effort between the State of Vermont and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to stop the spread of rabies, began Aug. 11. The bait drop is part of a nationally coordinated effort to halt the fatal disease.

“Timing and duration of the air drop is dependent on weather and other factors,” said Nancy Erickson, public health communication and policy advisor for the Vermont Department of Health. “Once begun, the air drop will take several days, and hand placement can take up to two weeks.”

The rabies vaccine is in the form of a sweet-smelling oral bait that is attractive to raccoons and skunks. Approximately 450,000 quarter-sized blister packs containing rabies vaccine will be distributed in nearly 100 Vermont communities across nine counties. In rural areas, the bait is dropped by low-flying aircraft, while in residential centers, the bait is hand-placed. The distribution plan in Chittenden County includes the towns of South Burlington, Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg.

Vermont Public Health Veterinarian Natalie Kwit said the bait packs are not poisonous, and people or animals can’t get rabies from the bait.

“The rabies bait packs are not harmful to people, pets or wildlife,” said Dr. Kwit, “but it’s important to leave the packs undisturbed so that they can be eaten by wild animals.”

If the bait must be moved, use gloves or a plastic bag in case the blister pack is damaged. If your pet eats a bait, or if a child brings one home, let officials know by calling the Vermont Rabies Hotline at 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437) or call the toll-free number printed on the bait.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals. It is most often seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats, but unvaccinated pets and livestock can also get rabies. The virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected animal. If a rabies exposure is left untreated, the disease is almost always fatal in humans and animals. However, treatment with the rabies vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective when given soon after a person is bitten by a rabid animal.

So far this year, eight animals in Vermont have tested positive for rabies, two of which have been raccoons.

According to wildlife officials, rabid animals often show a change in their normal behavior, but you cannot tell whether an animal has rabies simply by looking at it. People should not touch or pick up wild animals or strays, including baby animals.

If you suspect an animal may have rabies, call the Rabies Hotline, 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437) or 802-223-8697.

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