Oral rabies vaccine bait drop starts today!
Aug. 22, 2023
By Mary Wade Burnside
When rabies was found in a feral cat colony in early July, it raised a lot of interest, including on Monongalia County Health Department’s social media.
We informed our followers that the annual oral rabies vaccine (ORV) bait airdrop conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) was coming in late August and that sanitarians from MCHD Environmental Health would distribute ORV baits in grassy areas in Morgantown around the same time.
Some followers responded with a “like” while others wanted to know why we were waiting so long.
First of all, it’s not our decision. USDA APHIS drops the ORV baits by aircraft. According to information on the agency’s website, there are 16 states up and down the East Coast in which these baits are dropped.
Also, we understand the timing of the ORV bait distribution. USDA APHIS chooses the dates to make sure raccoons and other ground mammals born in the spring are old enough to eat the vaccines and be inoculated.
The goal of the bait drop is to keep rabies from spreading west. In fact, by 2019, USDA APHIS’ airdrop line had moved mostly west of Monongalia County. Monongalia County was experiencing a surge in rabies that ended up amounting to 20-plus cases for the year, and MCHD officials convinced USDA APHIS to move the line back east. Cases dropped dramatically.
MCHD Environmental Health also purchased additional baits that they scattered into wooded areas of Morgantown, such as Krepps, Marilla and White parks and also by the side of the rail-trail. This had been done in the past and it’s now an annual task.
USDA APHIS will drop ORV baits by air in our area starting today through Aug. 30. MCHD Environmental Health sanitarians plan to be out and about in Morgantown distributing ORV baits on Thursday, Aug. 24 and Friday, Aug. 25.
These baits are not poisonous to pets and might appeal to dogs. They are usually green on the outside and filled with the vaccine along with a fish smell in order to interest animals.
If dogs eat a few, it’s not a problem. If they gobble up several, they might throw up, which can concern pet owners. If you find any in your yard or an area where pets may be, pick them up with gloved hands and move them away from high-traffic areas to more wooded ones.
As a reminder, rabies is a viral disease found in mammals that attacks the nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov). The closer to the head a person is attacked, the faster rabies can develop.
Someone who is bitten or scratched by a strange and potentially rabid animal should wash out the wound with soap and water and seek treatment at an emergency department to discuss if rabies postexposure prophylaxis might be required.
At MCHD, we understand that rabies worries residents, and we don’t want to cause undue concern. The CDC notes that instances of human rabies in the United States are rare, with one to three cases reported annually. Between 2009 and 2018, 25 cases of human rabies were reported, and seven of those infections were acquired outside of the U.S. and its territories.
None of these cases took place in West Virginia. The scary statistic is that 23 cases resulted in death, while two patients survived. Once symptoms begin, rabies is practically impossible to cure.
One of those deaths was a 6-year-old boy who played with a bat that his father had trapped. The boy was scratched. After his father told him he needed to go to the hospital to get shots, the boy cried, and the father didn’t take him. The boy died two weeks after the onset of symptoms.
So you really don’t want to take a chance. It’s best to do everything possible to avoid rabies, including vaccinating cats, dogs and ferrets and spaying and neutering your pets. Also, stay away from strange and strange-acting mammals, keep tight lids on garbage cans and examine your home for any holes through which bats, raccoons or other animals could enter.
For more tips and answers to questions, please consult MCHD’s rabies control web page.
And if you have an encounter, seek guidance at an emergency department from your health-care provider and/or Monongalia County Health Department.