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Health

Ingenious and bizarre way of the US government to prevent a rabies epidemic: planes drop bait containing vaccines so that raccoons can munch on them


U.S. health officials are trying to prevent a rabies outbreak by dropping vaccines from airplanes as part of a half-billion-dollar federal program.

More than 9 million pieces of vaccine-containing food, the size of a ketchup packet, are being scattered across the eastern United States to suppress the deadly neurological virus in raccoons and prevent it from killing raccoons. humans.

The packets come in two flavors designed specifically to appeal to trash-diving mammals – vanilla and fishmeal – but “packet thieves” who don’t need the rabies vaccine, like gray squirrels and opossums, run away with a few pieces.

The annual airdrop, organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 1997, has stopped the spread of rabies to the western United States, but now hopes to eradicate the disease among raccoons in the east as well.

The news comes amid warnings from scientists that rabies-infected vampire bats are spreading to North America via Mexico as habitats change due to climate change.

More than 9 million pieces of vaccine-containing food, the size of a ketchup packet, are being scattered across the eastern United States to suppress the deadly neurological virus in raccoons and prevent it from killing raccoons. humans. The authorities have stopped its spread to the west, but now want to eradicate it in the east.

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The USDA renewed testing this year of a new vaccine with a new flavor, in an effort to attract more raccoons: marshmallow with powdered sugar, vegetable oil and dark green food coloring.

The USDA renewed testing this year of a new vaccine with a new flavor, in an effort to attract more raccoons: marshmallow with powdered sugar, vegetable oil and dark green food coloring.

“What we couldn’t do,” according to Charles Rupprecht, former director of the rabies program at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “this is to eliminate it from any state where raccoon rabies currently exists.”

The USDA renewed testing this year of a new vaccine with a new flavor, in an effort to attract more raccoons: marshmallow with powdered sugar, vegetable oil and dark green food coloring.

“Our feelings are absolutely not hurt if skunks, foxes or coyotes pick them up. And it is,” said Jordona Kirby, wildlife biologist and field coordinator for the USDA National Rabies Management Program.

“So although raccoons are the reservoir and spread rabies primarily in the east,” Kirby told NPR, “these other animals, like any mammal, can contract rabies.”

Last year, in fact, researchers working with the The University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory determined that “competition with opossums,” at least, did not prevent raccoons from receiving their dose of vaccine.

Researchers have proposed two solutions for vaccinating more raccoons, published this year in the Journal of Wildlife Management, that focus less on competition and more on raccoons.

The first suggestion was to “modify the bait matrix to make it more attractive to raccoons,” which meant even more experimentation with design and flavors.

Their second new proposal: abandoning oral vaccine packets during the winter months, when food is scarcer,”to promote acceptance of bait by raccoons.

So far, USDA oral vaccine releases have typically occurred between the months of July and October.

Starting last July, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began the next phase of its marshmallow testing – which is distributing aabout 3.5 million new oral vaccine baits, called ONRAB ORV, in parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Another area, however, will be the focus of data collection for this field trial.

Wildlife biologist Kathy Nelson, who oversees the USDA's National Rabies Management Program, said only 30 percent of raccoons in an area need to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease, and that a rate of 60% could eliminate rabies from an entire area.

Wildlife biologist Kathy Nelson, who oversees the USDA’s National Rabies Management Program, said only 30 percent of raccoons in an area need to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease, and that a rate of 60% could eliminate rabies from an entire area.

“APHIS is conducting the final year of a small-scale project this October in Chattanooga,” USDA officials announced, “to evaluate the effectiveness of ONRAB’s distribution methods.”

Wildlife biologists working for APHIS in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will capture and test a random sample of raccoons and skunks after this year’s bait distribution to track their vaccination rates.

Low-flying aircraft are used in rural areas to disperse these oral vaccines from the air, equipped with a conveyor belt inside the aircraft to automate and evenly distribute the vaccines at a rate of approximately 75 baits per square kilometer (29 per square mile).

In truly isolated areas where raccoons are less likely to live, including the spruce forests of northeastern Vermont, the USDA only drops about 37 baits per square kilometer (14 per square mile).

But in more urban areas, USDA distribution hopes to reach up to 150 oral vaccines per square kilometer (58 per square mile), dropped on suburbs by helicopter and tossed in the back of pickup trucks in cities.

Bushes, sewer pipes under roads and bridges, and shopping mall restaurant dumpsters are all prime locations.

“Any area that looks like raccoon habitat, we stop there,” wildlife biologist Kathy Nelson, who oversees the USDA’s National Rabies Management Program, told Wired.

Nelson said the USDA estimates that only 30 percent of raccoons in an area need to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease, and that a 60 percent vaccination rate could eliminate rabies in an entire area. .

She hopes new techniques can encourage more creatures to do it.

Rabies is a neurological virus transmitted through saliva that kills about 59,000 people each year worldwide, but only two to three deaths per year in the United States – thanks to the USDA’s multimillion-dollar program and d other national efforts.

In the first half of the 20th century, the majority of rabid animals in the United States were dogs, whether pets or strays, until vaccination efforts targeting the disease in dogs successfully reduced these numbers. figures in the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, the most common carriers are raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats, with these winged creatures increasingly becoming the leading cause of rabies deaths in the United States.

As application of vaccine baits continues, a USDA statement says: “Humans and pets cannot contract rabies from contact with the bait, but are asked not to disturb the bait if they come across it. »

“An intact bait is harmless, but it is difficult to know if the bait has leaked vaccine while on the ground,” department officials said. “In case of contact with the bait, the contact area should be immediately rinsed with lukewarm water and soap.”

“Each bait has a toll-free number that people can call if they have additional questions regarding bait contact.”

Gn Health

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