Raccoons across WNC may stumble upon unexpected tasty treats this week: fish-flavored morsels containing an oral rabies vaccine.
More than 700,000 baits will be scattered over the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia by fixed-wing aircraft this week, and another 120,000 by hand.
The oral rabies vaccinations are coated with a fishmeal flavoring and come in one-inch square cubes or two-inch plastic sachets. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits, but are asked to leave them undisturbed should they encounter them.
The mountains are part of a vaccination zone to prevent the westward and northward spread of rabies. Geographic features such as large lakes and rivers as well as the Appalachian Mountains act as natural barriers to rabies’ spread.
The oral vaccine has been shown to be safe in more than 60 different species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Dogs that consume large numbers of baits may experience an upset stomach, but there are no long-term health risks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is in charge of the effort.
Raccoon rabies is found in virtually every county in North Carolina, and raccoon-variant rabies is responsible for the majority of rabies cases in domestic and wild animals throughout North Carolina. There have been 164 confirmed cases so far this year.