Rabies Vaccine Bait Program in Allegheny County
Preventing the Spread of Raccoon Strain of Rabies
Rabies vaccine bait is being spread throughout Allegheny County over the next five weeks as part of an annual effort to prevent the raccoon strain of the infectious disease from spreading further west.
Enticing Raccoons with Treats
To entice raccoons, vaccine doses are encased in either fishmeal or a waxy vanilla substance. The veterinary drug is then tossed from helicopters over less populated areas or scattered by hand down storm drains, in abandoned yards, and under dumpsters.
Challenges in Finding Suitable Spots
Finding spots where raccoons will find the treats, but humans and pets won’t, can be challenging, said the Allegheny County Health Department’s Jamie Sokol, who coordinates the baiting program.
Successful Results with New Vaccine
A new vaccine from a Canadian manufacturer was used last year, resulting in a significant drop in the number of raccoons testing positive for the virus. Just two raccoons in Allegheny County have turned up positive in 2023, compared to 16 in 2021 and eight in 2022.
Economic Burden of Rabies
The annual U.S. economic burden for rabies exceeds $500 million, including the costs of testing animals for the virus and post-exposure prophylaxis treatment for up to 60,000 Americans every year.
Raccoons as the Reservoir
The rabies virus can infect any mammal, but one of the main strains exists in raccoons. Raccoons are opportunistic feeders and can spread the virus in urban and suburban settings before succumbing to the disease.
Creating a Boundary of Immune Animals
Pittsburgh is the westernmost city where the raccoon rabies strain is found. Vaccination efforts in Allegheny County create a boundary of immune animals, preventing the spread of the virus to other wildlife, livestock, domestic animals, and humans.
Hopes for Eradication
Hess and Sokol hope to eventually eradicate rabies from the Allegheny County raccoons and push the boundary of infected animals eastward.
- “It takes a good deal of thought and effort. But we get it done, and we hit pretty much the entire county, top to bottom,” – Jamie Sokol, Allegheny County Health Department
- “We do know that rabies is cyclical, and we might see a little bit of a wave. But we’ve never seen it be this low,” – Amy Hess, USDA wildlife biologist
- “If we can keep it less prevalent in the raccoon wildlife population then that will have success and positive benefits,” – Justin Brown, Penn State