STATE: Wildlife oral rabies vaccination program begins next week, protects people and pets

Published 2:08 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2021

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RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday announced it is working with the United States Department of Agriculture to help prevent the spread of rabies by distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons along western North Carolina’s borders with Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia. The annual baiting program, administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, was first conducted in North Carolina in 2005.

Beginning on or about Oct. 5, more than 500,000 baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be distributed by fixed wing aircraft in parts of Ashe, Alleghany, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Wilkes and Yancey counties.

Beginning on or about Oct. 6, approximately 56,700 baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be distributed in greater Asheville, Burnsville, Mars Hill and Waynesville by helicopter. In addition, ground teams will distribute approximately 6,100 baits by hand in the city of Asheville.

“The best way to prevent rabies is to avoid contact with wild animals and to vaccinate domestic animals against rabies,” said NCDHHS Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian Erica Berl, DVM MPH. “This important program helps us prevent the spread of rabies among wild animals, which also prevents wildlife spreading rabies to people and their pets and other animals.”

Baiting should be completed by mid-October, depending on weather and other factors.

The baits consist of a sachet, or plastic packet, containing the oral rabies vaccine. To make the baits attractive to raccoons, the packets are sprinkled with a fishmeal coating or encased inside hard fishmeal-polymer blocks about the size of a matchbox. When a raccoon bites into a bait, the vaccine packet is punctured, and the animal is exposed to the vaccine. This activates the animal’s immune system to produce antibodies that provide protection against rabies infection.

The vaccine does not contain the live rabies virus and cannot cause rabies in any animal. Anyone who comes into contact with the liquid vaccine should wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and call the phone number listed on the bait for further instructions and referral.

Rabies is most commonly found in wild animals in North Carolina. This poses a risk to people and domestic animals that my come in contact with wildlife. It is a fatal disease in mammals, including people. However, there are highly effective vaccines that prevent infection and illness in people and domestic animals. By North Carolina law, cats, dogs and ferrets must be vaccinated by four months of age and be kept up to date throughout their lives.

Although the oral rabies vaccine products are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services program has issued these precautions:

  • If you or your pet find a bait, leave it where you found it unless it is on your lawn, driveway or other area unlikely to attract raccoons. While wearing a glove or other barrier, you can move the bait to an area of thicker cover where raccoons are more likely to find it and pets are less likely to encounter it.
  • Eating the baits won’t harm your pet but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
  • Do not try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
  • Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has ruptured.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone.
  • A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For more information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or the NC Division of Public Health at 919-733-3419.

You can also find information on the USDA website at

For general information on rabies, see