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USDA combats wildlife rabies in North Carolina and surrounding states
October 10, 2021

wildlife services rabies biologists
Wildlife Services rabies biologists take a tissue sample from an anesthetized raccoon. The test will determine whether or not this animal ingested enough rabies vaccine to be protected. Baiting rabies vaccines is part of Wildlife Services' National Rabies Management Program. Photo by Anson Eaglin, USDA-APHIS

ABINGDON, VA – The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, will begin distributing oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits for wildlife in parts of western North Carolina and surrounding states this month. The smell of the ORV baits attracts targeted wild animals, such as raccoons, who eat the baits and are then vaccinated against rabies.

The ORV bait distribution program is part of management activities to prevent the westward movement of the rabies virus most often spread by raccoons.  ORV baits are distributed using fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters or from vehicles on the ground.  The project is based out of two airport locations and will take place through most of October. More than 3 million baits will be distributed by fixed wing aircraft in rural areas of western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, east Tennessee, north Georgia, and northeast Alabama, including over 500,000 baits in North Carolina.

From approximately October 5-18, 2021, ORV bait distribution by fixed wing aircraft will be based out of Abingdon, Virginia and Dalton, GA, to include portions of Cherokee, Clay, Macon, Jackson, Graham, Swain, Haywood, Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe, Yancey, Madison, Mitchell, Ashe, Alleghany, and Wilkes Counties. An additional 56,700 baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be distributed in greater Asheville, Burnsville, Mars Hill and Waynesville, NC by helicopter during the same timeframe. In addition, ground teams will distribute approximately 6,100 baits by hand in the city of Asheville. Baiting should be completed by mid-October, depending on the weather and other factors.

Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system in mammals and represents a serious public health concern.  If exposures to the virus are not treated it is almost always fatal.  Costs associated with detection, prevention and control of rabies exceed $600 million annually in the U.S.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the U.S. are in wildlife.  People are urged not to make contact with or feed wildlife and to keep their pets’ rabies vaccinations current.

The vaccine baits have been proven safe in many species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the baits but are asked to leave them undisturbed should they encounter them. If contact with baits occurs, immediately rinse the contact area with warm water and soap.

ORV baits have been distributed in North Carolina since 2005 as part of a larger effort by the Wildlife Services, National Rabies Management Program to prevent the westward spread of raccoon rabies by creating a barrier along the Appalachian Mountains from the Canadian border to Alabama.

For more information about the National Rabies Management Program, visit

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