In the wake of a confirmed case of raccoon rabies in Hyannis recently, wildlife officials are now distributing nearly 70,000 oral rabies vaccine baits in Harwich, Chatham, Orleans and surrounding towns. Some of the bait will be thrown from trucks, but most doses will be dropped by helicopter.
A previous vaccination effort on the Cape held raccoon rabies at bay for nearly a decade, but a raccoon tested positive for the viral disease in May, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to launch an emergency program to contain any outbreak. Around 700 individual raccoons were captured in the Mid-Cape, vaccinated against rabies, tagged and released where they had been caught.
As a second layer of protection against the spread of the disease, the Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts Rabies Task Force is taking part in a two-week vaccine bait distribution between the Upper Cape and Orleans.
“Approximately 69,900 [oral rabies vaccine] baits will be distributed Cape-wide; 57,000 will be distributed via helicopter and 12,900 will be distributed by hand (ground vehicles),” a Task Force news release reads. Using two choppers, the distribution of vaccine bait packets by helicopter was set to start July 13 and was expected to take about four days, weather permitting.
“Two low-flying federally owned aircraft may be observed by the public during this time frame,” the release reads. “The aircraft will be either red and black or white and orange.”
The ground distribution of bait packets will be carried out by town, county and federal employees as well as volunteers. It was set to begin on July 12 and was expected to take about two weeks.
“People and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits but are asked to leave them undisturbed should they encounter them,” the release reads. A person who accidentally touches a bait packet should immediately wash the area with warm soapy water and call the Massachusetts Department of Health at 617-983-6800. The bait packets are not toxic to pets, but the richness of the bait attractant can cause upset stomach.
Officials are also reminding the public that it is against the law to move raccoons and other wildlife from one location to another. Doing so risks spreading rabies and other diseases to non-infected areas.
Program updates will be posted to www.Facebook.com/CapeCodRabiesTaskForce.