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Wildlife and Rabies

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wild animals account for more than 90% of reported rabies cases, and bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks remain the most common sources of rabies in the U.S. In 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services began the National Rabies Management Program to coordinate the distribution and use of oral rabies vaccines in wildlife and prevent the spread of rabies.

The oral rabies vaccine (ORV) is licensed for use in raccoons, gray foxes, and coyotes and is delivered in a so-called bait matrix consisting of a small sachet filled with a dose of rabies vaccine that is anchored to fishmeal or dog food in such a way that an animal that bites into the bait will also receive the vaccine. The bait is then distributed throughout locales with a high number of rabies cases either by aircraft or being placed by hand.

The vaccine has proven an effective method for reducing rabies among wildlife. For instance, as of 20011, ORV programs along the Appalachian Ridge have prevented rabies from spreading westward among raccoons. Since 2005, 6.5 to 9.5 million doses of oral vaccine targeting raccoons have been distributed annually in 15 eastern states. And, the state of Texas’ use of ORV programs beginning in 1995 in response to outbreaks in coyotes and grey foxes has resulted in the elimination of the domestic dog-coyote rabies variant from the US in 2008.

While oral rabies vaccines are not approved for cats and dogs, ORV programs can cut the risk of rabies in feral cat and dog populations by reducing the virus among wildlife species that might spread the disease to these feral populations.

Wildlife is the most common source of rabies exposure in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wild animals accounted for 92% of reported cases of rabies in 2010.