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Raccoon Oral Rabies Vaccination Project

ORV BaitThe Anne Arundel County Department of Health will begin this year’s Raccoon Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) Project on September 3, 2014. Completion should occur by the end of September, weather permitting. The goal of the project is to immunize thousands of wild raccoons by placing baits containing rabies vaccine throughout Anne Arundel County, Maryland. This year, with support from Anne Arundel County funding, approximately 85,000 baits will be spread throughout the County. Immunizing the raccoon population helps to reduce the number of rabid animals and the number of human and pet exposures to rabies.

In 2013, Anne Arundel County reported 30 cases of terrestrial (ground dwelling) animal rabies. This is a significant increase over the four cases reported in 2011 (the year of the last ORV Project). It is likely that the lapse in baiting during 2012 and 2013 contributed to this increase; however, rabies virus prevalence is cyclical and has historically risen and fallen over time.

The ORV Project began on the Annapolis Peninsula in October 1998, and the Broadneck Peninsula was added in 2001. The Project was expanded to the entire county in 2003, and continued through 2011. In 2012 and 2013, the Project was not conducted due to limited federal funding resources and the changing focus of the National Rabies Management Program.

The Public Health Concern

Rabies is a significant public health threat since rabid animals can come in contact with people and their pets. Rabies is a fatal viral infection. While pets can be vaccinated against rabies, people exposed to rabies must undergo a costly series of shots to protect them from the disease.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed a safe vaccine for use with raccoons. This vaccine has been used successfully in Maryland and in more than 10 other states to control raccoon rabies.

Vaccine Distribution Plan

There are two bait versions that are distributed. One (made of fishmeal and polymers) looks like a small brown brick. It is approximately 0.75 inches thick by 1.25 inches square and contains a small plastic bag of the liquid rabies vaccine, Raboral V-RG. The raccoon must bite into the bag to be vaccinated. The second is similar to a condiment packet (such as ketchup), which has been coated with a waxy fishmeal attractant for raccoons. Inside the packet is the liquid rabies vaccine. The raccoon must bite into the packet to be vaccinated.

Baits will be placed by hand in likely raccoon habitats in Anne Arundel County neighborhoods. The bait teams will wear shirts with Department of Health logos and will travel in marked County vehicles. In addition, the Anne Arundel County Police helicopter will be distributing baits in less populated areas and may be flying at low altitudes during the distribution.

The Vaccine

Raboral V-RG, a genetically engineered vaccine, contains a live vaccinia virus into which a small portion of the rabies virus has been inserted. It cannot cause rabies. It has been proven effective in immunizing raccoons and coyotes, and it has been shown to cause no harmful effects in more than 50 different species of birds and mammals, including dogs and cats.

From a human safety standpoint, Raboral V-RG presents a low risk. Millions of doses have been distributed in the U.S., Canada and Europe with only two reported cases of human infection due to vaccine contact. Both individuals made a full recovery. Although complications are rare, it is recommended that people younger than 18 years old, pregnant, or who have an immunodeficiency or a chronic skin condition avoid handling the bait. It is also recommended that care be taken in removing bait from a pet’s mouth.

Questions and Answers

  • What if I find a bait near my home?
    Leave it alone. If you don't want the bait near your home, use gloves or put a plastic bag over your hands to pick it up and toss it into the woods. Then, wash your hands. Bare hand contact with the bait alone is not a concern; however, it does have a strong fish odor, so hand washing is recommended.

  • What if my child picks up the bait?
    If the packet containing the vaccine is not ruptured, wash your child's hands with plenty of soap and water to help get rid of the fishy odor.  

  • What if my child tears the vaccine packet or eats the bait?
    It is not possible to get rabies from the vaccine. The offensive odor usually discourages a child from eating the bait. However, in the unlikely event your child bites into the plastic packet containing the vaccine or otherwise has direct contact with the vaccine liquid, you should contact your child's physician and notify the Department of Health at 410-222-0056, ext. 3025 for any follow-up action.

  • What if my dog, cat or ferret eats the bait?
    The bait and vaccine are not harmful to animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets, livestock and wildlife. The bait may cause diarrhea or vomiting in dogs, cats or ferrets due to the high fat content of the bait.

  • What if my pet brings the bait into the house?
    Placement of baits will begin on September 3 and will be completed by the end of September. During this time and for at least two additional weeks, it is recommended that pets be kept indoors or on leashes outside. This will allow enough time for raccoons to eat the bait. If your pet does find the bait, discard the bait in the trash. Wear rubber gloves or put a plastic bag over your hands when discarding. Wash your hands after handling the bait and report any contact with the vaccine liquid to the Department of Health at 410-222-0056, ext. 3025.

  • Can this vaccine be used to vaccinate my dog or cat against rabies?
    No, the vaccine is approved only for use in raccoons. You should have your dog, cat or ferret vaccinated by your veterinarian or at a public rabies vaccination clinic offered by Anne Arundel County Animal Control. The law requires pets to be vaccinated against rabies.

  • Can I have some baits to distribute on my own?
    The vaccine used in the ORV Project cannot be purchased for an individual’s use, and it is federally restricted for use in rabies control programs sanctioned by an approved federal or state agency. Extensive management and agency coordination are involved to make sure the vaccine is kept under strict temperature control and is distributed with close assessment of raccoon population and habitat, baiting densities, competitive species, distribution methods and frequency, public awareness, and safety procedures for humans and pets.

  • How can I contribute to the ORV Project?
    The Department is requesting that residents report locations where raccoons have been seen or are known to congregate in the County. This information will help the Department target locations where raccoon populations may be more concentrated. If you know of a location where raccoons are frequently sighted or where you observe signs of raccoon activity, you can notify the Department of Health by filling out and submitting this by August 20.

  • Why is the project being carried out in the late summer and early fall?
    This is a time when the baby raccoons are old enough to gather their own food; thus there is the possibility of reaching the largest number of raccoons with the bait. Although raccoons do not hibernate, they are less active during cold weather.

  • After this year’s project has been completed, do I still have to worry about rabies in the area?
    Yes. The Department of Health cannot ensure that all raccoons are vaccinated. Raccoons or other animals with rabies could enter the area after the baiting; however, the incidence of rabies should be greatly reduced.

For more information, call the Bureau of Environmental Health, 410-222-0056, ext. 3025.

Rabies Fact Sheet
Wildlife Rabies in the United States – Frequently Asked Questions About Wildlife Vaccinations