Raccoon Rabies Vaccination Baiting

The number of rabid raccoons identified in Allegheny County has declined over the past 20 years. This is largely due to the multi-state efforts of the rabies vaccination program for wild raccoons spearheaded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (USDA), who the ACHD partners with for this massive effort. This year, employees and volunteers of the ACHD and the USDA will distribute vaccine-containing baits from August 1 through August 30, 2024 across Allegheny County.

The baits will be delivered both by hand from ground vehicles and by aircraft, including helicopters and fixed wing airplanes. Residents might see aircraft moving slowly over the same area multiple times over a short period of time. This could be alarming to residents who are unaware of the program, so we ask our local municipalities to join us in getting the word out about the baiting effort and when it will happen. Hand baiting will occur from August 5 through August 9, 2024.

Why are there concerns about raccoons and rabies?

Raccoon rabies is found throughout Pennsylvania. It is a viral infection that can affect the nervous system of any mammal, including humans. The disease is almost always fatal to both people and animals.

Here is a Map of county locations where animals were found that tested positive for Rabies in 2022.

Raccoon rabies spreads rapidly and infects large numbers of raccoons. The disease often spreads to other wildlife and pets, making human exposure a real concern. To address this problem, federal, state and county agencies are participating in a combined program, to keep this animal epidemic from spreading further westward by attempting to eliminate or at least greatly reduce raccoon rabies in western Pennsylvania counties.

Since 2001, the ACHD has partnered with the USDA Wildlife Services each summer to distribute hundreds of thousands of oral raccoon rabies vaccine baits across Allegheny County by hand. The goal of the USDA’s National Rabies Management Program is to eliminate the raccoon variant of rabies from the United States. In Phase I (2001 to 2015) of the program, the goal was to contain the westward spread of the raccoon variant of rabies. This has successfully been accomplished. Phase II of the project (started in 2016) aims to push the westward boundary of raccoon rabies back eastward, eventually all the way to the coast, effectively eradicating raccoon rabies from the United States.

The oral rabies vaccine bait consists of a blister packet coated in a sweet, waxy coating, or a fishmeal coating, known to attract raccoons. Baits are distributed from vehicles or airplanes. Most of the baits will be consumed about five days after being distributed. People should tell their children to leave the baits alone. Pet owners are asked to keep their dogs and cats inside or on leashes so raccoons can eat the baits.

Are gloves required to handle the bait?

An intact bait will not harm you, but the bait coating may get on your skin. If a blister pack within the bait is broken and the liquid vaccine is visible, use protective gloves or pick the bait up in a plastic bag without making contact with it. If you suspect you may have been exposed to the vaccine please contact the ACHD at 412-578-8060.

What if I do not have a glove?
You can use a plastic bag or paper towel to prevent you from coming into direct contact with the bait and vaccine. Be sure to dispose of it after use.

What if I find bait near my home?

Leave it alone. However, if the bait is intact and out in the open or where contact by pets or children is possible, wearing a glove, toss it into deeper cover.

What if my dog or cat eats the bait?

This vaccine has been shown to be safe in many different species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Eating a large number of baits may cause a temporarily upset stomach in your pet, but it does not pose a long-term health risk. Do not attempt to remove a bait from your pet’s mouth; doing so may cause you to be bitten and could lead to vaccine exposure. If your pet becomes ill from bait consumption, please contact your veterinarian for more information.

Is the vaccine harmful?

The vaccine is not harmful to wild animals or pets. Although the exposure risk to humans is very slight, the following information is important:

  • Be aware of what a bait looks like (see: Raccoon ORV Baiting Notice(PDF, 155KB)).
  • Encourage children to leave the baits alone.
  • Keep dogs and cats inside or on leashes at least five days after your area has been baited.
  • Do not attempt to take a bait away from your pet; you may be bitten!
  • Wash your hands or exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water if you touch the bait or the liquid vaccine inside the bait.

What happens if my child eats or has contact with the vaccine? Will my child get rabies?

If your child finds an intact bait, you may place the bait into an area of thick ground cover. If your child brings you a bait that is leaking vaccine, wash the exposed skin and your own hands with soap and water after contact with a bait. It is not possible to get rabies from the vaccine. The vaccine is contained within a blister pack which is coated in a fat/wax attractant for wildlife. The heat sealed lid has printed information stating what the product is and a phone number of someone who can be contacted if necessary. People with certain medical conditions, such as an immunodeficiency problem should not handle the rabies vaccine.

Please call the Pennsylvania Public Health Information Line at 1-877-PA HEALTH, or the Allegheny County Health Department at 412-350-4046 if you are exposed to the vaccine or need advice.

Can this vaccine be used to vaccinate my dog or cat against rabies?

No, this vaccine is approved only for use in wildlife. A veterinarian, in accordance with state and local regulations, should vaccinate your pets. Regular pet vaccination is essential to protect your pet against rabies.

How is a raccoon vaccinated?

A raccoon is vaccinated by eating a bait containing the vaccine. The raccoon will develop antibodies in two to three weeks that may protect it if it is exposed to another infected raccoon. If enough raccoons are vaccinated, the risk of the spread of rabies will be greatly reduced.

The bait is intended for wild animals – specifically raccoons. Everyone can help by keeping their pets inside or on leashes during the baiting time and for about five days afterwards. This will help to prevent your pet from getting the baits and gives raccoons a chance to eat the baits.

Important Reminders

  • Do not attempt to take a bait away from your pet! It is never a good idea to take food from the mouth of an animal. You may be bitten!
  • Leave baits in place if possible. If the bait is out in the open where contact with pets or children could occur, put on gloves and toss it into deeper cover.
  • Damaged baits should be placed in a baggie and disposed of in normal trash.
  • If you have skin contact with either the bait or the pink liquid vaccine, wash the area of contact with soap and water.
  • If you have eye or mucous membrane contact, rinse the area with water.
  • If you have skin or mucous membrane contact (such as the eyes or mouth) with the pink liquid vaccine, please contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health (1-877-PA HEALTH) for additional information.
  • Immediately call your physician and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (1-877-PA HEALTH) if you develop a rash after contact with a bait.
  • Please call the Pennsylvania Public Health Information Line 1-877-PA HEALTH or the Allegheny County Health Department 412-350-4046 if you need advice.

Six Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Rabies

  1. Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals, and be cautious of stray dogs and cats. Rabid animals do not always appear ill or vicious!
  2. Teach children to leave wildlife alone. Be sure your children know to tell you if an animal bites or scratches them.
  3. Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, or ferrets against rabies. Keep pet vaccinations up-to-date.
  4. Tightly close garbage cans. Open trash attracts wild or stray animals to your home or yard.
  5. Feed your pets indoors; never leave pet food outside as this attracts wildlife.
  6. Call your doctor and your local health department for advice if an animal bites or claws you. Report the incident immediately!

The Oral Rabies Vaccination Project is conducted by the Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture and Health, Allegheny County Health Department, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U S Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services (USDA/APHIS/WS).