Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Project*

What is the Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Project?

Just as children are vaccinated against diseases like measles and mumps, raccoons can be vaccinated against rabies. Like the polio vaccine for children, the rabies vaccine for raccoons is taken by mouth.

How is a raccoon vaccinated?

A raccoon is vaccinated when it bites into a bait containing the vaccine. The vaccine used is the only one currently available that works orally in raccoons. The pink vaccine is sealed inside a tiny plastic bag (sachet) that is either coated with a flavoring, or contained inside a bait which is made from a compressed mixture of fish meal and fish oil known to appeal to raccoons. Baits are dropped in areas frequented by raccoons via helicopter or by hand distribution along roads and trails. The baits have a strong smell that is not attractive to people. Currently the baits are not available to individual homeowners – they are only distributed as part of state-approved wildlife vaccination programs.

Why do raccoons need to be vaccinated?

Rabies is a viral infection that affects the nervous system of raccoons and other mammals including humans. The disease is almost always fatal once clinical signs of infection occur. The spread of raccoon rabies is of great concern because the high numbers of raccoons in areas of New York State make it more likely for a human, a pet or farm animal to encounter a rabid raccoon. Vaccination will greatly decrease the chance of human and domestic animal contact with rabid raccoons.

Where is the vaccination area?

The vaccination area covers multiple areas of the state. Contact your county health department for the details.

How is the project's success measured?

Raccoons are humanely live-trapped in the vaccination area several weeks after baiting. Blood samples are drawn to be tested for antibodies against rabies, and the captured raccoons are released. The presence of antibodies means a raccoon has developed immunity against rabies after vaccination. Increased surveillance for sick or dead raccoons (including roadkills) is conducted to better track the presence of rabies.

How can you help?

It would be helpful to keep all dogs and cats indoors or on leashes during the bait distribution and for about a week afterward. This will allow raccoons to eat the vaccine-laden baits and become immunized, and decreases the chance of pets eating the baits instead. Please do not disturb the baits, and instruct children to leave them alone<. Please report any sick or strange-acting raccoons, skunks, or foxes observed at any time to your county health department.

What is in the bait?

The liquid vaccine is encased within a white plastic bag (sachet) that somewhat resembles a fast-food style ketchup container. This sachet may be coated with a thin fishmeal flavoring, or encased in a brown, square fishmeal mixture block. The flavor coating and fishmeal mixture are designed to primarily attract raccoons. A label printed in black on each bait reads "http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/index.htm

What if I find a bait near my home?

Leave it alone. If the bait is intact and out in the open where pets or children are more likely to encounter it, toss it into deeper cover under trees or bushes while wearing gloves.

Are gloves required to handle the bait or will I be harmed if I handle the intact bait without gloves?

It is not harmful to touch an intact bait. However, because of the offensive odor gloves are recommended. Wash hands thoroughly after any direct contact with the bait.

What if my dog or cat eats a bait?

The baits are not harmful to dogs or cats, but a pet may vomit if he/she eats a large number of them. If a pet chews a bait, do not try to take it away from the animal since you may be bitten in the process. There is a risk, although very low, of infection with the vaccinia virus contained in the vaccine in such situations. (You cannot contract rabies from the vaccine, however.) Please wear gloves or use a plastic bag if you handle the damaged bait after the pet drops it. Damaged baits can be bagged and disposed of in regular trash. If you have direct skin contact particularly with the pink liquid vaccine inside the bait, wash the area with soap and water.

What if my child eats the bait?

The bait itself will not harm the child. In the unlikely event that a child bites through the sachet and ingests the liquid vaccine, contact your county health department.

If my child or pet ingests the vaccine, will either of them get rabies?

It is not possible to get rabies from the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain the rabies virus.

Can this vaccine be used to vaccinate my dog or cat against rabies?

No, this vaccine is approved only for use in wildlife. Vaccination of pets should be done by veterinarians in accordance with state regulations. Pet vaccination is essential to protect your pet against rabies.

If you have any questions, call the NYS Department of Health at (518) 474-3186 from 8:30 am to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday.
For after-hour emergencies, call the Public Health Duty Officer at 1-866-881-2809.

* The Oral Rabies Vaccination Project is conducted by the New York State Department of Health and Cornell University, along with USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, the Departments of Environmental Conservation and Agriculture & Markets, and the county health departments.