Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff today announced that the annual oral rabies vaccination baiting (ORV) program, which helps control rabies in wild animals, will begin on Monday, Aug. 7.
The operation will cover all or parts of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
"Controlling rabies in wild animals is essential to human health, as well as domestic animals," said Wolff. "The ORV program has been an effective tool in combating the further spread of rabies, with a decrease of nearly 50 percent in the last five years."
Wildlife rabies accounts for almost 93 percent of the reported rabies cases in the U.S., and raccoons account for more than 50 percent of this total. Although the primary focus is to vaccinate raccoons, other animals such as dogs, cats, cattle, horses, skunks and foxes also benefit from the program.
Starting Aug. 7, trained employees will spread bait sachets to densely populated areas by hand. On Sept. 5, low-flying aircraft will drop sachets in sparsely populated areas. The vaccine sachet is placed inside fishmeal bait, or coated with a flavored substance. When the raccoon punctures the sealed plastic package, the vaccine is released into its mouth.
The vaccine contains only a small, non-infective portion of the rabies virus that cannot cause rabies.
The bait does not pose an immediate health risk to humans or pets, but anyone finding the baits should avoid handling them unless they are found where children or pets play. Baits can be moved or disposed of with gloves or a paper towel if they are found in these areas.
Six agencies - the state Departments of Agriculture and Health, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Erie County Health Department, Allegheny County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control - are collaborating with USDA's Wildlife Services for this program.