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Annual Wildlife Oral Rabies Vaccination Program begins next week, helps protect North Carolinians and their pets

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help prevent the spread of rabies. Starting next week, Wildlife Services will be distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons in Western North Carolina.

Beginning Oct. 6, 2022, baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be aerially distributed in Alleghany, Ashe, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, Macon, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Wilkes and Yancey Counties.

“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.”

The baits consist of a sachet, or plastic packet, containing the oral rabies vaccine. To make thebaits 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

Anyone who comes in 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.

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.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone. If a bait is ingested by a child or adult, call 1-866-4-USDA-WS. NCDHHS has never received a report of a human ingesting a bait packet.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has ruptured.
  • A warning label on each bait advises people not to touch the bait and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

Rabies is most commonly found in wild animals in North Carolina. This poses a risk to people and domestic animals that encounter 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.

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 NCDHHS Division of Public Health at 919-733-3419.

Baiting should be completed by mid-October. The Oral Rabies Vaccination program, originally implemented in the 1990s. helps prevent the raccoon rabies epizootic from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains, where raccoon rabies does not exist. The program has been successful in that regard and the vision is to gradually move the vaccine barrier east until raccoon rabies is eliminated.

In addition to the initiation of the ORV program, Sept. 28 is celebrated as World Rabies Day. This day marks the anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur, who developed the first vaccines against rabies, among many other advancements.

You can also find information on the USDA website at

For general information on rabies, please see

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