In cooperation with the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force (CCRTF), the United States Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services (USDA) is continuing to support the Cape Cod Oral Rabies Vaccine (CCORV) Program to help reduce and eventually eliminate raccoon rabies on Cape Cod. The Cape Cod ORV Program, which began in 1994, is praised as one of the longest running, increasingly successful projects to control rabies in the country. Unfortunately, the CCORV Program was one of the many public health initiatives which lost its state funding in 2009. The USDA, as a direct result of commitments by the CCRTF, local communities and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has continued to fund the ORV baiting. The fall round of ORV baiting is set to begin the week of April 23.
The USDA has continued to shift the bait zone west as a result of favorable rabies surveillance on Cape Cod, and high vaccination rates in wildlife. In 2016, baiting was shifted west up against the Canal, in addition to a large portion of Plymouth County for the first time since 2003. The purpose of the shift was to create a larger buffer zone for Cape Cod, and to begin to provide vaccination for a larger area of Massachusetts. This spring, bait distribution will occur again in the towns of Plymouth, Kingston, Carver, Middleboro, Wareham, Rochester, Marion, Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Barnstable.
The distribution will occur as follows:
**Note: Once bait stations are filled, they will remain and be checked over the following two weeks. On the fourth week, any remaining bait will be hand distributed.
When rabies first appeared in the state of Massachusetts in 1992, a group of concerned local, state, county and federal representatives started the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force to discuss and implement a protocol to keep rabies off of Cape Cod. In 1994 when the CCORV Program began, the CCRTF distributed Rabies Vaccine baits throughout towns surrounding the Cape Cod Canal. For over a decade, this program was successful in keeping rabies off the Cape, using the canal as a natural barrier. Unfortunately, in March of 2004 the first terrestrial raccoon strain of rabies was discovered in Bourne. By 2006, raccoon rabies was found in every town across the Cape. For the next twelve years, portions of the Cape have been baited bi-annually in hopes of vaccinating as many animals as possible, in turn, protecting the wildlife and reducing the numbers of pet and human exposures to this potentially fatal disease. It is important to know that while the vaccine program has been very successful at reducing the type of rabies found in land-based wild animal species, bats remain a potential source of rabies exposure to both pets and people.
The oral rabies vaccine is licensed for use by the USDA. The rabies vaccine is contained in baits that have a strong fish smell that is especially attractive to raccoons and unpleasant to humans. Raccoons that consume a vaccine-bait unit will be vaccinated against this fatal disease. Vaccine containing baits are distributed from cars along the roadside in wooded, brush covered, and wetland areas where raccoons are likely to find and eat them. Driveways, lawns, buildings, schools and agricultural fields are avoided. Studies have shown that most baits are eaten within four days and almost all baits are gone in one week. If baits are not found, the bait will dissolve, exposing the vaccine packet. Sunlight inactivates the vaccine quickly, as does exposure to air. Although, the vaccine will not harm domestic animals, people are urged to keep their dogs leashed to prevent them from scavenging the baits and vaccine packets. People who come into contact with intact baits should dispose of them in brushy areas where children and dogs are not likely to find them and wash their hands thoroughly. People who are immunocompromised or have eczema on their hands and have contact with the liquid vaccine inside the bait should wash their hands thoroughly and contact the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 617-983-6800. Although exceedingly rare, contact with the liquid vaccine can cause a localized skin reaction.
Residents of Massachusetts can help with this effort to combat rabies on Cape Cod in several ways. Make sure dogs and cats are vaccinated against rabies; this protects both pets and people. Report sick or strange acting animals, especially raccoons and skunks, to local officials. Do not transport and release wild animals anywhere in Massachusetts; moving wild animals across the canal could result in a re-emergence of raccoon rabies on Cape Cod. People can also protect themselves from contracting rabies by following these simple guidelines: avoiding contact with wildlife or offering them food, disposing of food and trash properly, securing garbage cans tightly and reporting any wildlife behaving oddly to local health officials. Members of the public are advised to contact their local boards of health with any questions or concerns about vaccinating pets and the Cape Cod Oral Rabies Vaccine Program.