No raccoon rabies vaccine baiting in Anne Arundel this year

County dropped from federal program focused on preventing westward move of virus strain

September 06, 2012|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

For the first year in more than a decade, no rabies vaccine baits will be placed in Anne Arundel, after the county was cut from the federal program, according to county health officials.

The project used a county police helicopter and volunteers to immunize thousands of raccoons and other small wild animals in an effort to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, dropping baits to be eaten by the animals in late summer and fall.

The number of reported rabies cases has plummeted since the county began using the edible vaccine baits, starting with a small area in 1998. Federal authorities began financially supporting the program in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Last year, the county had four reported cases of rabies among animals, down from the 96 reported in 1997, said Elin Jones, a county Health Department spokeswoman. The numbers include pets and wild animals, but not bats.

The disease is transmitted through saliva, typically through animal bites, and it can spread to pets and people. Raccoons have been the chief target in the county's baiting program.

The program's success aside, county health officials are hoping to find the money needed to restart the baiting.

"We are looking into funding sources, so perhaps it can be resumed," Jones said.

The county had received $77,700 last year from the Department of Agriculture for the program, in addition to more than 72,000 baits.

Federal authorities have been trying to halt the westward spread of the strain of rabies that is common in raccoons on the East Coast, said Carol A. Bannerman, spokeswoman for the USDA's Wildlife Service and Animal Care offices. No other jurisdiction in Maryland was part of the federal program.

"The Anne Arundel County program was a bit of an anomaly. The main raccoon rabies program is trying to create a barrier from Canada to Alabama to the Appalachian ridge," she said.

The agency was also looking at the effectiveness of edible raccoon vaccine in areas where other geographic features could help stop the spread of that strain of rabies, including peninsulas. Anne Arundel County fit into that small group. Its baiting was done countywide, not only in waterfront areas. Similar baiting programs in other small areas have been successful as well.

"Dependent on resources, the Rabies Management Program will continue surveillance in Anne Arundel for two years to determine the impact of baiting and ceasing to bait," Bannerman wrote in an email.

Erik S. Robey, chief of staff for Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, said the county will work with federal authorities to monitor the number of rabies cases in the coming year. Depending on the numbers, county officials might ask the federal government to resume its funding to restart the rabies baiting program or consider using county funds.

Initially, in 1998, the county funded a small program and placed oral rabies vaccination baits only in the Annapolis peninsula. In 2000, Gibson Island was added, Jones said. Then, in 2001, with federal funding available, the Broadneck peninsula was added. The program went countywide in 2003, she said.

County officials are continuing to urge residents to take precautions to avoid animal bites, keep pets' rabies vaccinations up to date, and not attract wild or stray animals to their yards.

For information on rabies prevention, go to: aahealth.org/programs/env-hlth/orv/rabies-fact.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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