St. Clair County is one of several Alabama counties where the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is cooperating with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to vaccinate raccoons against rabies using oral rabies vaccine (ORV).
This organized effort to prevent the spread of raccoon rabies is a continuation of a program that began in 1997. Nationally, the vaccination zone includes 15 states from Maine to Alabama and is intended to stop the eastern raccoon rabies variant found in east coast states from spreading westward and northward.
Beginning this month, rabies vaccine will be dropped in parts of the following counties: Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chilton, Coosa, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Jefferson, Marshall, Morgan, Shelby, St. Clair, Talladega and Tuscaloosa.
In urban areas, such as the Birmingham metropolitan area, vaccine packets will be dropped by hand from trucks alongside the tree lines. Helicopters will be used to drop baits in more heavily wooded areas that are more difficult to access. In rural areas with vast wooded lands, airplanes will be used. Altogether, residents may see low-flying aircraft or helicopters in the vaccination area.
The vaccine packets consist of a sachet, or plastic pack, containing the rabies vaccine. The outer shell of the packet is coated with fishmeal or dog meal to attract raccoons. Raccoons are vaccinated by opening the packet with their teeth, which exposes their gums to vaccine.
Animal exposures are common, but the rabies vaccine poses no risk of rabies to humans or animals if exposed. Animal reactions may include some mild digestive upset, but reactions are rarely serious. If a packet is found, it should be handled with gloves, and either replaced in an area where a raccoon may find it or disposed of in the trash.
Occasionally, skin reactions occur in humans. It is best to avoid direct contact with the skin, eyes or mucous membranes with the vaccine. If exposure occurs accidentally, then it is recommended that the person wash hands with warm water and soap. Should more serious reactions occur, there is a telephone number on the vaccine packet to call for more information.
Rabies in wildlife continues to be a public health concern because of the risk of exposure to domestic animals and humans. Alabama law requires dogs, cats and ferrets to be vaccinated against rabies. Vaccinating domestic animals is very important in preventing human rabies.
According to Dr. Dee W. Jones, Public Health State Veterinarian, over 7,000 animal bites and exposures that occur every year are investigated. He added, “Keeping high vaccination rates of animals is critical to preventing rabies, because pet exposures can happen without the owner’s knowledge. Vaccination is very, very effective, with only rare cases of rabies occurring in vaccinated animals.”
Animal safety is also very important. “Being careful to approach animals correctly, and avoiding strange-acting, injured animals also helps reduce the risk of rabies.” Bats are carriers of rabies and people should avoid contact with them, Jones added.
For more information about the federal ORV usage in Alabama, please contact the USDA at 1-866-4USDA-WS. For more information about rabies exposures, animal or human exposures to the ORV please call ADPH at 1-800-338-8374.