Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) Program – Air Drops Over Western North Carolina

Beginning in the late 1970s, a strain of rabies virus associated with raccoons rapidly spread along the east coast of the United States northward from Florida and southward from West Virginia. As the virus invaded new areas, there was an explosive increase in rabid raccoons, with many states reporting over 500 cases in a year. Compounding the problem, raccoon-variant rabies frequently “spills over” into pets, livestock and other wildlife, including some wildlife species that we traditionally consider low-risk for rabies (rabbits, deer, etc).

Before the two raccoon rabies epizootics spread into North Carolina, canine variant rabies was the major source of rabies virus infection to pets, livestock and humans. Raccoon rabies variant was first discovered in skunks at the northern border of North Carolina in Alleghany County in 1990 and then in raccoons in Gates and Pasquotank counties in 1991. On the southern border, raccoon rabies was first identified in Brunswick, Mecklenburg, and Union counties in 1992. By 1995, the two epizootic fronts had met in Harnett County and by 2005, virtually every county in North Carolina had recorded raccoon rabies.

This is the twelfth year that USDA has worked in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) to control the spread of raccoon rabies in western North Carolina. Raboral V-RG (Merial, Ltd) is an oral rabies vaccine that is placed inside a coated sachet. The bait consists of a small packet similar to a ketchup packet, coated with a mixture of fishmeal and fish oil known to attract raccoons. It is distributed by fixed wing aircraft in rural areas or by helicopter in urban/residential areas. Raccoons that eat the vaccine-laced bait become immune to rabies. This technology has demonstrated promise as an adjunct to traditional rabies control measures.

To accomplish the goal of the ORV program, preventing the westward spread of raccoon rabies, a “vaccine barrier” has been established extending from eastern Ohio (beginning at the border with Lake Erie) down the Appalachian ridge to Mobile County, Alabama, ending at the Gulf of Mexico. In 2017, oral vaccination bait drops are scheduled for parts of ten North Carolina counties. Baiting will take place September 28, 2017 – October 22, 2017 in portions of Ashe, Buncombe, Jackson, Haywood, Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Cherokee, Graham and Swain counties.

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