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. Wildlife Services will be distributing oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons in Western North Carolina.

Beginning Oct. 4, 2023, 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.

“Avoiding contact with wild animals and vaccinating our domestic animals and pets is the best way to prevent rabies, which can often be fatal,” said NCDHHS Deputy State Public Health Veterinarian Erica Berl, DVM, MPH. “The wildlife rabies vaccination program prevents the spread of rabies among animals in the wild, which in turn prevents humans, pets and other animals from becoming infected.”

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.

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 temporarily 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 late 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. [source]

You can also find information about the national program on the USDA website.

For general information on rabies, please visit the CDC website.