Vermont , New Hampshire and New York have been added to the second round of trials for a new rabies vaccine. It was first used last year in West Virginia.
"The results were pretty promising in West Virginia. We had 50 percent of the raccoons tested as having enough antibodies in their system to fight rabies, so this is pretty exciting for us to try this out," said Martha Dunbar,a USDA Wildlife Biologist.
The new bait is smaller than ones used in the past and instead of smelling like rotting fish, they smell like caramel. But there is another change as well. "It's an oral rabies vaccine. It does not contain the rabies virus but it contains the gene from the rabies virus, so when a raccoon or fox or a skunk eats one of these it helps their system build up antibodies to fight a rabies infection," Dunbar said.
In Canada they have been able to eliminate raccoon rabies with this bait. Three-hundred thousand baits will be spread between Vermont and New Hampshire. In the northern, more remote parts of the state, they were dropped by air. "We go into an urban area where we are driving on a road and we are putting them into the woods on the side of the roads -- also on the bike paths through the greater Burlington area. Sometimes we walk into the woods and distribute them that way," she said.
According to the Vt. Department of Health, there have been hundreds of cases of animal rabies reported throughout Vermont since 1992. The number of rabies cases last year was actually down compared to years past, but Dunbar says rabies is cyclical which is why it's important to drop bait ever year.
If you find one of the baits, leave it alone. If you do have to move it, wear gloves and then wash your hands afterwards. And if your dog or cat gets ahold of one, don't worry, Dunbar says they are harmless.
The next step in the trial is to trap a number of animals to see if they have the rabies antibodies in their blood, which means the bait drops were successful.
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