Rabies in raccoons has been officially eliminated in two New York counties, Cornell University reported today.
The success story in Nassau and Suffolk counties, part of New York’s Long Island, is being attributed to Cornell’s Wildlife Oral Rabies Vaccination Program. The program was initiated during the mid-1990s.
The World Health Organization defines such success as a lack of rabies cases after two years of enhanced surveillance, according to Laura Bigler, Ph.D., a Cornell wildlife biologist and program coordinator. The last raccoon rabies case in Nassau County was in November 2007. Suffolk County’s last case was in January 2009.
Cornell’s program uses a U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed liquid rabies vaccine hidden inside a small sachet that is coated with fishmeal and fish oil. Raccoons are attracted to the bait by its fishy smell, according to the university. The raccoons puncture the baits and ingest the liquid vaccine.
Cornell took over managing rabies-control efforts in Nassau and Suffolk counties in 2006. Since then, about 372,000 baits per year have been distributed, targeting populated suburban neighborhoods either via GIS-satellite-guided helicopter drops, vehicle tosses or bait stations that were developed at Cornell.
“In 2004, the New York State Department of Health identified an outbreak of raccoon rabies on Long Island and decided to take a cue from Europe, Canada and Texas, all of whom had used vaccination programs to eliminate rabies from wildlife populations,” said Donald Lein, DVM, Ph.D., professor emeritus of population medicine and diagnostic sciences at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell.
To keep the raccoons in Nassau and Suffolk rabies-free, rabid raccoons in neighboring areas must be controlled, Lein said.
“At least one or two cases a year have been reported in Queens since the rabies outbreak started in Nassau County, and Brooklyn identified its first cases in 2010,” he added. “Ideally, wildlife vaccination could be stopped entirely if raccoon rabies were eliminated from the entire island.”
The vaccine used in the program is Raboral V-RG, by Merial Ltd. of Duluth, Ga. The vaccine does not include the live rabies virus and has been proven safe in more than 60 species, including dogs and cats, according to Cornell. The oral vaccine has been licensed for use in raccoons and coyotes.
To reduce the risk of rabies exposure, Cornell offers the following advice for pet owners: ensure that animals are currently vaccinated and do not store trash in containers that are accessible to wildlife.