BURLINGTON, VT – The annual Rabies Bait Drop is underway. The week-long bait drop is part of a nationally coordinated effort between the State of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to prevent the spread of rabies – a fatal disease.
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Rabies vaccine — in the form of a sweet-smelling oral bait that is attractive to raccoons and skunks — will be dropped in rural areas of Vermont from low-flying aircraft and placed by hand in residential centers. Pilots are able to control the release of bait in order to avoid residential areas. When an animal bites into the bait, it takes in the oral vaccine and will develop immunity to rabies. Approximately 450,000 quarter-sized blister packs containing rabies vaccine will be distributed in nearly 100 Vermont communities across 8 counties.
State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso with the Department of Health said the annual bait drop represents the best in state and federal cooperation. “This is public health at work,” said Kelso. “The bait drop is an important part of our work to curb the risk of rabies in animals and humans. We value this years-long partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Department and USDA Wildlife Services in protecting the health of Vermonters.”
Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals. Rabies is most often seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats, but unvaccinated pets and livestock can also get the disease. 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 is 100% effective when given soon after a person is bitten by a rabid animal.
The bait packs are not poisonous and are not harmful to people, pets or wildlife. “You can’t get rabies from the bait,” said Kelso, “but if you find a bait pack, please don’t touch it unless necessary. Leave the bait undisturbed so it can be eaten by wild animals.”
If the bait must be moved, use gloves or a plastic bag. 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.
So far this year, fifteen animals in Vermont have tested positive for rabies, four of which have been raccoons.
Wildlife officials reminded Vermonters to leave wildlife alone and enjoy them from a safe distance. “While rabid animals may change their normal behavior, you really can’t tell whether an animal has rabies simply by looking at it,” said USDA Wildlife Biologist Owen Montgomery. “People should not touch or pick up wild animals or strays – even baby animals that may appear abandoned. They most likely are not.” Montgomery also encouraged people to be sure pets and other domesticated or farm animals are up to date on rabies shots as appropriate.
If you suspect an animal may have rabies, call the Rabies Hotline: 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437) or 1-802-223-8697
Learn more about rabies in Vermont at: healthvermont.gov/rabies