For Immediate Release: May 2, 2024

 

Media Contacts:

Owen Montgomery | USDA, Wildlife Services

802-272-1072

owen.j.montgomery@usda.gov

Tanya Espinosa, | USDA, Legislative and Public Affairs

301-851-4092

tanya.c.espinosa@usda.gov 

Ben Truman │ Department of Health

802-316-2117 │ 802-863-7280

AHS.VDHMedia@vermont.gov


 

Early Wildlife Rabies Vaccine Drop Scheduled for Northwestern Vermont

Distribution of rabies vaccine bait will begin May 4 to address increase in animal cases

 

WATERBURY, VT – For the second year in a row, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (USDA), in coordination with the Vermont Department of Health, will conduct a spring rabies vaccine bait drop. This special distribution of approximately 264,000 oral rabies vaccine bait in areas of Chittenden, Lamoille, Franklin, and Grand Isle Counties is scheduled to begin on May 4. Officials said the extra effort is needed to help counter an ongoing wildlife rabies outbreak, which has expanded into Franklin County.

 

The early distribution is in addition to the annual bait drop in August. In both rounds, rabies vaccine – in the form of a sweet-smelling oral bait that is attractive to raccoons and skunks – will be dropped from low-flying airplanes in rural areas, by helicopter in suburban areas, and placed by hand from slow-moving vehicles in residential areas. 

 

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals. Without post-exposure treatment, rabies is fatal to both humans and animals. The virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected animal.

 

In Vermont, rabies is most often seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats and woodchucks. Pets and livestock can also get the disease if they have not been vaccinated for rabies. 

 

In Chittenden County, 51 animals have tested positive for rabies since March 2022 — 29 raccoons, 15 skunks, five bats, one grey fox, and one woodchuck. Ten of those (six raccoons, three skunks and the grey fox) were identified in 2024. In Franklin County, which had no cases of rabies among land animals in 2022 and 2023, four raccoons and one skunk tested positive for rabies in March.

 

"We’ve seen a significant increase of rabid animals in Chittenden County over the past several years,” said Dr. Natalie Kwit, state public health veterinarian with the Health Department. “The outbreak is now impacting Franklin County, where we haven’t seen many animals test positive for rabies. This bait drop will help prevent spread of rabies among wildlife, protecting people and domestic animals who may come into contact with them.”

 

The vaccine bait packs are not poisonous and are not harmful to people, pets, or wildlife. If you find a bait pack, please don’t touch it unless necessary. Leave the bait undisturbed so it can be eaten by wildlife. If the bait must be moved, use gloves or a plastic bag. If your pet eats a bait, or if a child brings one home, let officials know by calling the Vermont Rabies Hotline at 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437) or call the toll-free number printed on the bait.

 

Dr. Kwit also reminded people that for the sake of the animals, leave wildlife in the wild. “Not only can you put yourself or your family at risk for rabies or other diseases, interacting with young wildlife may result in the animal being orphaned, or needing to be tested for rabies, which requires it to be humanely euthanized,” said Dr. Kwit.

 

Follow these guidelines to keep your family, pets and livestock safe:

 

  • If you see a sick or strange-behaving wild or stray animal, or if you are concerned about a rabies exposure, call the Vermont Rabies Hotline (1-800-4-RABIES)
  • If you are bitten by an animal, wash the wound very well with soap and water and contact your health care provider as soon as possible. 
  • If your pet or farm animal was bitten by a wild or stray animal that might have rabies, contact your veterinarian. State law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated for rabies — even barn cats. Rabies is rare in vaccinated animals. Always feed pets inside the house and keep them indoors at night. If they are outdoors during the day, keep them on a leash or in an enclosed space. Pets that roam free are more likely to be exposed to rabies.
  • Do not touch or pick up wild or stray animals – even young animals – or try to make them into pets. You can’t tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it

 

For more information, including a list of towns where the bait drop will take place, see our Rabies Vaccine Bait Drop Fact Sheet. 

 

Learn more about rabies in Vermont at HealthVermont.gov/Rabies.

 

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