Pet owners: Watch out for rabies vaccine baits in Monongalia County
Aug. 16, 2023
Contact: MaryWade Burnside
Public Information Officer
Monongalia County Health Department
Morgantown, WV 26505
(304) 598-5152 | www.monchd.org
For Immediate Release
MORGANTOWN, WV (Aug. 16, 2023) — Monongalia County residents, especially those with pets that spend time outdoors, should be on the lookout for rabies vaccine baits that will be dropped during August, mostly from aircraft, by the United States Department of Agriculture.
“If you find a bait, leave it where you found it, unless it’s in your lawn or driveway,” said Todd Powroznik, Environmental Health program manager at Monongalia County Health Department. “If you do find any in those places, wear gloves and remove the baits, and put them in an area where raccoons and wild animals will find them.”
Unless the schedule changes, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will conduct its annual distribution of oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits from airplanes, helicopters and by car between Aug. 22-30 in the Monongalia County area. The bait drop takes place in several states up and down the East Coast.
Sanitarians from MCHD Environmental Health will drive around Morgantown and distribute baits by hand in grassy areas such as parks and beside the rail-trail on Thursday, Aug. 24 and Friday, Aug. 25. Last year, sanitarians distributed 1,550 baits around town.
“I think they’re going to give us a few more this year because of the cat colony now that we have that site on the grids,” Powroznik said.
The baits contain rabies vaccine that raccoons and other wildlife consume in order to inoculate them against the fatal virus that can be passed on to other mammals, including humans and their pets, during chance encounters. They are distributed using a grid system to make sure key areas are covered.
Monongalia County is one of the areas slated to receive three types of ORV baits that contain different vaccines. Two are wrapped in blister packs – one green and one white – and the other is encased in a brown coating. Some contain fishmeal to attract the wildlife, which dogs also might find appetizing. While not toxic or harmful, it’s not a good idea for dogs to ingest too many of them.
“Eating a large number might cause an upset stomach in your pet,” Powroznik said.
Dogs, especially those left unattended in a large yard near a field or woods, are especially at risk of encountering these ORV baits and gobbling them up. Owners are encouraged to inspect their yards periodically during August to see if any of the baits have been dropped in their area.
“Having these baits in your backyard is preferable to your dog getting into a fight with a potentially sick raccoon, especially when owners are vigilant and inspect their property during this time of year,” Powroznik said.
Luckily, studies have shown that most of the baits reach their intended recipients – raccoons and other wildlife – within four days. “They are all almost gone within a week,” Powroznik said.
Rabies has been in the news lately in Monongalia County. One case was found in early July in a feral cat colony off Green Bag Road, while a bat in southern Monongalia County tested positive earlier this month.
USDA APHIS waits until late August to distribute the baits because that’s when raccoons and other mammals born in spring are old enough to eat them and be inoculated against rabies.
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). Upon the onset of symptoms, rabies is almost always fatal.
In 2019, Monongalia County experienced more than 20 known positive cases of rabies. Some of these came from cases in which a dog in a backyard encountered a rabid raccoon. In this situation, if a dog has not been vaccinated for rabies and is bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, euthanasia is the course of action.
Monongalia County Health Department was instrumental in contacting the USDA APHIS office in Elkins in 2019 to request that the airplane drop map, which had gravitated to the west, be moved back east to include more of Monongalia County. The result has been a greatly reduced number of rabies cases.
“Before this year, we’ve only had a couple of positive specimens for rabies,” Powroznik said. “They keep moving the line back to the east and it’s helping tremendously by vaccinating the wild animals.”
For up-to-date information on health and wellness in Monongalia County, check out monchd.org and follow the health department on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using @WVMCHD., Twitter and Instagram using @WVMCHD.