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Rabies bait drop underway

Observer staff report

The 19th Annual Rabies Bait Drop began Aug. 11 across nine Vermont counties, including all of Chittenden County, to help stop the spread of the potentially fatal viral disease, according the Vermont Health Department.

Nine of the 11 animals that have tested positive for rabies so far in 2015 have been found in Chittenden County, including five in Burlington.

“Police Departments in Chittenden County do a really good job of responding to reports of animals acting strangely and making sure the animal is trapped and tested,” said Robert Johnson, state public health veterinarian.

Bait containing the rabies vaccine will be dropped into rural parts of Vermont, primarily across the northern region along the Canadian border, from low-flying planes for five days. More than 450,000 baits will be dropped from Beechcraft twin-engine airplanes at an altitude of 500 feet along planned flight lines at a rate of about 91 baits per linear mile.

The bait drop is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

“Efforts to reduce the threat of rabies have performed well, particularly in northern Vermont near the border with Canada,” Dr. Johnson said. “The vaccine was developed in the mid-1980s. It was the first oral vaccine for rabies to be used in the United States, the first bait ever to be used to control the disease in raccoons,  the first wildlife vaccine used in the United States.”

Hand-placed baits will also be distributed in urban areas. The Health Department does not expect any adverse health effects for people or pets that may come into contact with the baits, but the Health Department advised pet owners to keep their dogs on a leash during the bait drop period. The bait cannot cause rabies.

Anyone who finds the bait should leave it untouched, unless it is discovered on a lawn or driveway. Remove the bait with a glove and wash your hands with soap and water.

The sweet-scented baits are slightly larger than a quarter and come in blister packs covered by a dark green waxy coating.

Rabies is a fatal viral disease found mainly in raccoons, foxes, bats and skunks that can infect domestic animals and people, as well. The virus can spread through the bite, or contact with saliva, from an infected animal. The rabies vaccine—if given soon after a human is bitten by a rabid animal—is highly effective. Once the signs and symptoms of rabies start to appear, there is no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal.

Avoid any animal that shows strange behavior. Do not try to trap or capture the animal, but instead call the state’s Rabies Hotline at 800-472-2437 or in-state at 223-8697.