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USDA dropping oral rabies vaccines in northern, western NY

Neil McIntosh/Flickr

The United States Department of Agriculture continues to take steps toward lessening the number of rabies cases in New York state. Earlier this summer, edible plastic blister packs of a new vaccine, which has a marshmallow flavor and is a little larger than the size of a quarter, were dropped by airplane and by hand throughout northern New York and parts of four other states.

Mark Carrara, a wildlife biologist with the U.S.D.A., says the agency has been working to eradicate the disease in New York since 1995. The vaccines target several animals, including raccoons, foxes, coyotes and skunks.

"We have an existing vaccine that we have been working with, and that's called Raboral V-RG," Carrara said. "But we are now experimenting with a new vaccine and we are currently in the field trial efforts to get it licensed in the United States."

Carrara says the new vaccine, called ONRAB, when used along with the standard vaccine bait which has been in use for years, could help get the U.S. a little closer to eradicating the disease.

"There are countries, in particular in Europe, that have been able to eliminate terrestrial rabies," Carrara said. "When I say terrestrial, basically land animals other than bats. So there are some countries that have been that successful. It's a very ambitious goal."

He says last year alone, about 290,000 vaccine packets were dropped in St. Lawrence County, and another 175,000 in Jefferson County. In the western New York counties of Erie, Niagara and Wyoming, about 175,000 baits were placed.

Carrara says the vaccine will not hurt pets if they find and eat any packets.