• Rabies vaccine drop will be widespread
    By Eric Blaisdell
     | August 20,2013

    USDA Photo Blister packs like these containing rabies vaccine will be dropped across many Vermont counties this week.

    BARRE — Don’t be alarmed. Federal officials say those low-flying planes that many will see buzzing around central Vermont for the next week are simply combating rabies.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture is using the planes to drop a rabies vaccine the department hopes will help fight the disease. The effort is tentatively scheduled to start today.

    The white, twin-engine planes will fly at about 500 feet above Washington, Caledonia, Addison, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Orleans, Lamoille and Chittenden counties. Drops will also be occurring in New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. What they will be dropping is Onrab, an oral vaccine to help prevent the disease in raccoons, skunks, foxes and other wildlife susceptible to rabies.

    According to the department, the vaccine packets containing the drug, which are slightly larger than a quarter, are coated with a sweet substance that includes vegetable-based fats, wax, icing sugar, vegetable oil, artificial marshmallow flavor and dark-green food-grade dye. The animals find the packs and eat them.

    As for what they may do to you or your dog, Jordona Kirby, the rabies field coordinator for the department, said the public need not worry.

    “If their dog consumes a bait, they are safe,” she said. “In rare instances there is a possibility of a slight upset stomach. If there are any concerns if a dog does eat a bait, then that individual can certainly check with their veterinarian.”

    As for human contact, Kirby said anyone who finds a packet should put on a glove or use some other cover to prevent direct contact and move the packet to the woods. Touching the packet directly or being exposed to the vaccine inside, Kirby said,may in rare instances cause the symptoms of a common cold. But more often than not, Kirby said, washing your hands with soap and water will take care of any exposure concerns.

    While the planes will be used to drop the vaccine in rural, wooded or farmland areas, the packets will also be distributed in towns and cities in the nine Vermont counties by automobile to places of cover such as shrubs or bushes. Kirby said around 430,000 packets will be dispersed around the state over the next few days.

    Using bait to combat rabies in the wild is not new to the state.

    “We have been baiting in Vermont since the late 1990s, but this year we are conducting a trial with a new vaccine. ...This is the second year that we are looking at this new vaccine. It has been used very successfully in Canada to prevent rabies in raccoons there.”

    The department conducted a similar dispersal last year and plans on doing another next year, Kirby said, to make sure it is effective.

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