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Edible raccoon rabies vaccines to be tossed into Omaha yards

By Aaron Hegarty

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    OMAHA, Nebraska (KMTV) — If you see someone tossing small packets from a car into yards in the east half of Douglas County this week, it’s probably the United States Department of Agriculture.

Starting Wednesday, the USDA will place 18,000 oral raccoon rabies vaccines in a 62-square-mile area mostly east of Interstate 680 both on foot and from vehicles.

They’re intended to stop raccoon rabies from establishing itself far from the place it already has.

The CDC and USDA have never found a raccoon rabies case between here and Appalachia, apart from a few isolated cases in Ohio, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said.

Nebraska’s first case of the raccoon rabies variant was discovered in a kitten early this month.

Ten people were exposed to that kitten but are doing well. Rabies is nearly always fatal without proper treatment, Huse said.

“If we cannot contain the spread of the raccoon rabies variant, it is estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars in human exposures over the next five years,” said Douglas County Epidemiology Chief Justin Frederick.

The oral vaccines are about the size of a ketchup packet. They smell like fish because they’re covered with fish meal. As you can imagine, they might attract more than raccoons, but county officials say they’re safe for pets. In fact, they say do not try to stop your dog from eating it, because bites can happen.

They ask Omahans not to move the packets unless it’s in a driveway, sidewalk, or somewhere that might not attract raccoons. If you do move a packet, officials ask you to use gloves or a barrier like a bag or paper towel then wash your hands.

The liquid vaccine has, in two cases, caused rashes in immunocompromised people with cuts on their hands, Frederick said. That’s out of 250 million packets that have been distributed, he said.

The oral rabies vaccine is “typically distributed by Wildlife Services each year” to prevent spread outside east of the Appalachian Mountains, according to the Douglas County Health Department.

The Douglas County Health Department has an information line: (402) 444-3400. They’ll take questions, requests not to bait your property, and reports of any adverse effects.

Two weeks ago, officials began trapping and vaccinating animals. They’ve vaccinated nearly 600; they’re mostly raccoons but also include skunks, cats, and a red fox. A week ago officials began testing animals, mostly on roadkill, because the animal has to be dead to be tested. All 130 animals tested have tested negative.

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