Oral Rabies Vaccination Pilot


What is the purpose of the Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Pilot Program?

At certain times of the year the Fairfax County Health Department distributes oral rabies vaccine to reduce the number of people exposed to rabies by preventing the spread of the rabies virus in wildlife. Oral rabies vaccine contained in fishmeal baits   is targeted to raccoons, the primary carrier of terrestrial rabies on the East Coast of the United States.

Who conducts the Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Pilot Program?

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech conducts the pilot program through a contract administered by the Fairfax County Health Department. The manager of the pilot program is François C. Elvinger, Dr.med.vet., Ph.D., Dipl. - ACVPM, and Associate Professor - Clinical Epidemiology. VMRCVM's program coordinator is Lori A. Thiele, a wildlife biologist with a Master's degree in wildlife management and five years of field experience. To learn more about the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, visit their webpage.

What is the scope of the Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Pilot Program?

The program is authorized by the Code of Virginia and Fairfax County Code Chapter 41 and operates under a plan approved by the State. Oral rabies vaccine is distributed in the area of the County that lies east of Interstate 95 and south of the Beltway, see 70 square mile target area, map (JPG file, 108K). Oral rabies vaccine was first distributed in spring 2000 followed by a second distribution that fall. In February 2001 the results were reported to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The third oral rabies vaccine distribution is occurring spring 2002. The pilot program is funded by Fairfax County with additional support provided by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

What is the origin of the Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Pilot Program?

A citizens group tasked by the Board of Supervisors with exploring potential solutions to the rabies problem recommended the use of oral rabies vaccine. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved initial funding for the pilot program in fiscal year 2000. The Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Pilot Program is the only such program in Virginia.

What is oral rabies vaccine?

Oral rabies vaccine is a viral product developed and manufactured using state-of-the-art biotechnology. The US Department of Agriculture licenses oral rabies vaccine for distribution to various species of wildlife, including raccoons. A small plastic bag called a sachet is filled with about a half teaspoon of oral rabies vaccine. The sachet is inserted into a bait block made of fishmeal that is about the size of a matchbox. When thousands of these baits are distributed over a large area, it's expected that many raccoons become vaccinated as they eat the bait containing the sachet. When enough raccoons are vaccinated the spread of rabies is reduced and people are less likely to be exposed to rabid animals. The federal government is working with several states to distribute oral rabies vaccine to control the spread of raccoon and coyote rabies. There are also at least two local programs like Fairfax's, one in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and the other in Pinellas County, Florida.

How are properties selected for oral rabies vaccine placement?

Instead of broadcasting bait uniformly as most other programs do, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine is testing an oral rabies vaccine distribution strategy that depends on placing vaccine in a targeted manner in areas that are likely to have a high raccoon activity. Such properties are those that have trees favored by raccoons for denning (e.g., oak trees) and streams or bodies of water. Properties are generally one acre in size or larger and are selected using computerized geographical information (GIS).

Why is most oral rabies vaccine distributed by helicopter?

Distribution by helicopter is more efficient than distribution from the ground, so as many of the properties as possible are vaccinated by this method. For those properties on which helicopter distribution is inappropriate, for example, those with high human population density or an environmentally sensitive area, oral rabies vaccine is distributed from the ground.

In addition to this Web site, what is done to inform the public about the Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Program?

  • A phone information line was publicized so callers may listen to a brief description of the pilot program, learn more about how to reduce the risk of rabies exposure, report finding an oral rabies vaccine bait, and request a brochure.
  • An e-mail address was available for those who wish to communicate by e-mail.
  • News releases were issued by Fairfax County at various points as the program is conducted.
  • Posters were displayed in stores, libraries, parks and other public places.
  • Specific information about the pilot program was provided to:
    • Veterinarians serving Fairfax County
    • Citizens with special interest in the pilot program
    • Homeowner and community associations in the target area
    • The state agencies authorizing the pilot program (i.e., Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
    • Medical societies
    • Veterinary medical associations
    • Animal and wildlife associations

How does Fairfax County access property to place baits?

As provided by the Code of Virginia , Section 41-2-15 of the Fairfax County Code authorizes the Fairfax County Health Department to distribute oral rabies vaccine. Prior to distribution, the County Code requires the Health Department to notify each owner or occupant of a property on which oral rabies vaccine distribution is planned by sending two letters by first-class mail not less than two weeks apart. The content of each notice is identical and contains a description of the reason why the Health Department wishes to access the property, the time and method of rabies distribution, and other information about the program. The notice informs the owner or occupant that participation in the pilot program is voluntary and that he or she may exclude his or her property from the program by sending a written request to the Health Department at 10777 Main Street, Suite 100, Fairfax, VA, 22030 by the submission deadline, i.e., Friday, January 11, 2002. As provided by Section 41-2-15, oral rabies vaccine will not be distributed on a property for a period of one year when the owner or occupant requests it be excluded. Also, as provided by Section 41-2-15, the Health Department publishes a notice of intent to distribute oral rabies vaccine in a newspaper of general circulation.

How is oral rabies vaccine distribution handled on Ft. Belvoir?

Ft. Belvoir is very important to the success of the pilot program because it contains large areas of high raccoon activity and its 8,378 acres represent about 20 percent of the land area in the target area. Most oral rabies vaccine is distributed by Army helicopter, the rest is distributed from the ground by Ft. Belvoir personnel. Further information about Ft. Belvoir's participation may be obtained by calling their public affairs office at 703-805-5001.

How is the effectiveness of the Fairfax County Oral Rabies Vaccine Program determined?

In fall 1999, before any oral rabies vaccines were placed, raccoons were trapped to determine a baseline level of rabies immunity. At least two weeks after each oral rabies vaccine distribution, raccoons were then live-trapped on properties that had received oral rabies vaccine. Trapped raccoons are handled humanely and released unharmed after blood is drawn for testing. Blood samples are tested in a lab by rapid fluorescent focus inhibition test (RFFIT) to determine if antibodies to rabies are present. Antibodies indicate oral rabies vaccine uptake and immunity to rabies. Trapping is conducted under a permit issued by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The pilot program is approved by the Humane Society of the United States.

Can I get oral rabies vaccine?

The State authorizes the use of oral rabies vaccine as part of an overall strategy to vaccinate a large geographic area. Due to the controls necessary to ensure the safe and effective use of oral rabies vaccine, it is not available to individuals. Oral rabies vaccine cannot be used outside of the target area for which it is approved.

 


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