Cape May County, NJ dropping ‘vaccine baits’ to curb wildlife rabies risk
Ever since a late-1990s zoonotic outbreak, rabies cases in Cape May County have trended historically low, and local officials believe the continued deployment of vaccine-filled baits is a major reason why.
A collaborative effort between the county Health Department, county Mosquito Control, the state Department of Health, and the state Department of Environmental Protection, these baits are most commonly dropped by helicopter in forested areas that are near county neighborhoods, but considered mostly rural.
Kevin Thomas, Cape May County public health coordinator, said the state of Texas has used a similar strategy for many years to reduce rabies transmission in coyotes.
"Since we're a peninsula, it makes it unique down here in Cape May County, so we can drop rabies baits, and we've purchased rabies baits each year since the 1990s," Thomas said.
The process of dropping 32,000 baits this summer has already begun, according to Thomas.
The baits attract wild animals, who eat the vaccine-laden contents and are then theoretically protected against rabies for three years, the same length of time as a domestic canine shot.
"All it is is a packet of a vaccine, that we're mainly interested in inoculating raccoons," Thomas said, adding that skunks, possums and other animals also carry rabies, and could also be attracted to the baits.
The county is placing baits by hand at 42 campground sites, where raccoons frequently dive into trash cans.
Each packet is stamped with an imprint that provides a phone number in case of adverse human reaction to the vaccine, but Thomas said no such reaction has happened in the program's 21 years.
"Nobody's ever had any problems," he said. "Even dogs have chewed these things up, and basically they're getting a booster shot."
Thomas urges local residents to get their dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies if they have not been, as that is most often the main link in the chain of transmission to humans.
And just like with animals either wild or domestic, rabies can quickly become fatal in humans if not treated immediately.
"If you get bit, you have to go right to the emergency room and start a series of rabies vaccines, so you don't want to go through that," Thomas said. "You want to get your dogs vaccinated."