The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) is conducting a rabies control program using an experimental oral rabies vaccine (ORV) to try to stop the spread of rabies among wildlife populations. The USDA is set to use baited traps on the ground or planes to spray wildlife with the experimental oral rabies vaccine, which is a human adenovirus type 5 rabies glycoprotein recombinant vaccine called ONRAB produced by Artemis Technologies, Inc. in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.1
WS officials have stated that an expanded ONRAB vaccine distribution program is necessary to secure a higher level of population immunity in raccoons to maximize the effectiveness of the vaccine.1
In the past, the government program to control rabies in wildlife has used the vaccinia-rabies glycoprotein (V-RG) vaccine, which officials claim has eliminated canine rabies from sources in Mexico, a gray fox rabies virus variant in western Texas and prevented the spread of raccoon rabies in the eastern United States. While the prevention of raccoon rabies in that region has been considered successful in overall rabies management, the V-RG vaccine has not been effective in eliminating raccoon rabies, which is the reason why WS is proposing expanded use of the experimental ONRAB vaccine.1
Since 2011, WS officials have been conducting field trials in parts of West Virginia to study the immunogenicity and safety of ONRAB vaccine. In 2012, field trials were conducted in areas of New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Vermont and new areas of West Virginia.1
According to news reports, a total of 14 rabid raccoons have been found in Monongalia County, West Virginia since January 2019. Mary Wade Triplett, the public information officer for Monongalia County Health Department stated, “USDA plant and animal health inspection services has added most of Monongalia County back into the oral rabies vaccine bait program which is going to take place from August 22 to September 5th.”2
New reports state that the goal of expanding use of the experimental ONRAB vaccine is to prevent rabies from spreading to the west. Vaccines will be dispersed either by air for rural areas using rotary or fixed wing planes or by ground using baited traps for more populated areas.2
The Monongalia County Health Department suggests individuals should do the following if they find a rabies vaccine bait trap:
If people find them, they should leave them alone. If they are in an area where children and pets play, they should maybe try to relocate them to a place where wildlife might find them, using a glove or plastic bag to move them. They are not harmful if your dog eats some, but if they eat too many they might get an upset stomach.2
WS officials will also be releasing baits containing the experimental rabies vaccine in northern Maine beginning on August 3, 2019. About 351,000 oral rabies vaccine baits will be distributed across a 2,405-square-mile area of northeastern Maine, including Mars Hill, Houlton, Weston, Oxbow, Patten and Stacyville.3
Government officials in Maine have said that humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits but cautioned that people should not pick up or handle the rabies vaccine baits in any way.3
1 Environmental Assessments; Availability, etc.: Oral Rabies Vaccine Program. Regulations.gov.
2 Buchanan J. USDA to drop rabies vaccines starting in late August. WDTV July 30, 2019.
3 Brino A. Rabies vaccine baits to be released in northern Maine. The County July 30, 2019.