So far this year, four rabid raccoons have been spotted in Allegheny County down from 23 that were found in 2002. To reduce those numbers even further, the Allegheny County Health Department will conduct its 11th annual raccoon rabies vaccine baiting program. From August 20-24, Health Department workers, part of the “Rabies Control Team”, will place nearly 230,000 baits in all municipalities.
Ron Voorhees, Acting Director of the Health Department, said the baits are specially made for raccoons and are laced with a rabies vaccine. “They have a fishy-odor that apparently attracts raccoons and can be smelled and raccoons tend to be around waterways and this is a way to target the animals that we think have the most risk of rabies,” Voorhees said.
Although the risk of infection from exposure is minimal, the Health Department urges people to avoid coming in contact and never touch the baits with their bare hands. However, Voorhees said it is best to either move or dispose of the bait if one is found.
“These are small, one-inch rectangular baits, they have a wax substance inside and if people find any we recommend that they can just dispose of them, but it is unlikely to cause any actual harm,” Voorhees said.
When moving the bait, you should use rubber or latex gloves or a shovel. If it is still intact, it should be thrown into a nearby ditch, wooded area, or other raccoon habitat. If it has been chewed or otherwise damaged, it should be placed inside a plastic bag and disposed of in the trash.
The Health Department is also asking pet owners to keep their animals on a leash, indoors, or at least confined to their property as much as possible over the next two weeks. Even though the bait is not harmful to household pets, health officials don’t want them to find and eat the bait intended for the raccoons.
Voorhees said the campaign is part of a national attempt by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to halt the problem before it has a chance to grow. “The effort is to actually vaccinate raccoons especially and perhaps other animals so that they don’t get rabies. Raccoons are one of the big reservoirs of rabies virus in this part of the country,” Voorhees said.
The Health Department also asked for the public to make extra efforts to ensure raccoons are hungry and will eat the bait by bringing inside any pet food left out in the open. The department also suggested outdoor garbage containers be sealed with secure lids and/or tie them down with a rope or bungee cord to keep raccoons from foraging for food.