ELIZABETHTOWN — State Department of Health Veterinarian Dr. Bryan Cherry says rabid-animal populations in Essex County are getting bigger.
People must stop feeding feral cats and other wild animals and should vaccinate their pets and maintain vigilance for rabid creatures, he said.
“In the north end of Essex County, you’ve got the most rabid raccoons you’ve seen in this area,” he said. “You don’t have a problem in the High Peaks — raccoons don’t like the elevations.”
Rabies travels up and down the East Coast every year, Cherry told the Essex County Board of Supervisors recently.
“It first moved to New York (state) in 1990. We have watched it move throughout the state. We’ve had (rabies) positive raccoons in the Ticonderoga area, moving up from the south or across from Vermont.”
NEW VACCINE BAIT
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program is in charge of oral-rabies vaccine distribution and is now using ONRAB packaged baits.
The ONRAB vaccine is used in Canada to control rabies in raccoons, skunks and foxes. It is placed in forests either aerially or by ground distribution.
Use of the new bait has resulted in higher vaccination rates for wild animals, Cherry said.
He said they want to establish a vaccination barrier between Essex and Clinton counties to try to stop animal rabies from spreading farther north.
“You’ve got a lot of rabies activity going on here,” Cherry said. “We were trying to hold raccoon rabies out of Clinton County. This has been a challenge. You have to get the vaccine to a lot of raccoons because they’re a very prolific animal.”
He said trying to create herd immunity for wild animals starts with an immune barrier to rabies expansion and requires intensive, sustained effort.
The ultimate goal is to eradicate the raccoon-rabies strain.
“You have to get upwards of 80 percent of the raccoon population vaccinated,” Cherry said. “This (ONRAB) vaccine seems to work a little better. It’s been successful in Canada.”
Some rabid raccoons have been identified in Clinton County but almost none in Franklin County, he said.
“What we’re hoping for is at some point we get enough (animals) vaccinated that it (immunity) does maintain itself,” Cherry said.
Each vaccine packet costs about $2, so a vaccine barrier is an expensive endeavor, Cherry said.
“I’ve seen so many rabid raccoons (in an area) it affects the quality of life. You need a sustained effort, year after year after year (distributing baits).”
He said people still need to have their pets vaccinated and maintain vigilance.
“Don’t feed wild animals; don’t feed feral cats,” Cherry said. “The number of people exposed to an animal that might be rabid is huge.”
Last year in Essex County, 16 raccoons, two skunks, a fox and a woodchuck were confirmed rabid.
But the last time a rabid bat was detected in Essex County was in 2008.
Cherry said 85 percent of rabies vaccination treatment for humans is due to bat exposure, yet almost no one is getting rabies from bats. He said it’s important to capture bats found in homes so they can be tested.
SKUNKS ON MAIN STREET
County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said people are coming to see him, worried that there’s a rabies epidemic in Essex County.
“Last month, I had rabid skunks running down my main street. Kids going to school could not get out the front door to get on the bus. I had to call a trapper to come and get the skunks.”
Cherry said other initiatives are needed along with bait distribution.
“Bait on the ground is useful, but you have to do education, stop feeding the ferals. Community awareness is important.”
Email Lohr McKinstry: firstname.lastname@example.org