Officials Working Together to Stop the Spread of Rabies Along Border

For Immediate Release: June 2, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - A more aggressive approach to stopping the spread of rabies northward along the Vermont/Canadian border this spring and summer will include an increase in wildlife officials live trapping raccoons, skunks and foxes.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working to trap, vaccinate and release (TVR) as many raccoons and skunks as possible in three primary areas, Grand Isle, Franklin and Orleans Counties.

The goal of the program is to vaccinate approximately 65 percent of the raccoon population within the TVR zones. Raccoons accounted for 103 of the 165 rabies-positive animals tested by the Health Department in 2007, with 85 cases located in Franklin County. In 2006, 73 rabies cases were confirmed, an increase from 59 cases in 2005. The rise over the last three years is due, in part, to enhanced surveillance and trapping efforts. More than 1,200 animals, mostly raccoons, were trapped and vaccinated last year.

“We are working with Canadian officials to try to cover the northern border counties in three areas where we have had positive cases,” said Martha Pitt, a USDA wildlife biologist. “In order to help protect the public’s health, we will euthanize any animals that we suspect are rabid.”

People are asked to avoid any animal that exhibits strange behavior, and do not try to trap or capture the animal themselves, but instead to call the state’s Rabies Hotline at 1-800-472-2437 (1-800-4-RABIES).

Rabies is a fatal, viral disease found mainly in wildlife (especially raccoons, foxes, bats and skunks), but can infect domestic animals and people. There has never been a human case of rabies reported to the Vermont Department of Health. The virus can be contracted through the bite of an infected animal.

If a person is exposed, contact your doctor and the town health officer and follow their instructions. Wash the bite wound throughly with soap and warm water. Untreated, rabies is always fatal; however, effective vaccines are available to protect people and pets.

Robert Johnson, DVM, public health veterinarian for the Vermont Department of Health, is monitoring a cluster of positive animals in Orleans County near Lake Memphremagog in Newport.

“We’ve had a number of calls into the Newport district office of the Health Department asking about the traps,” Dr. Johnson said. “And we are reminding them that the traps are clearly marked by the USDA, and it’s important that people leave the traps alone.”

Seven USDA trappers will work full-time on the initiative throughout the summer, setting as many as 50 traps each in targeted areas. Currently, there are approximately 250 traps set, including many along the west side of Lake Memphremagog. The traps are baited with sardines or marshmallows, which look like turtle eggs to skunks and raccoons, who also have a “sweet tooth.”

For more information on rabies prevention efforts visit the Health Department’s website: http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/rabies/Rabies.aspx.

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