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Oral Rabies Vaccination Campaign
Helicopter dropping oral rabies vaccine baits
A helicopter drops baits containing oral rabies vaccine targeted to wild raccoons.

In 1996, a new strain of rabies in wild raccoons was introduced into northeastern Ohio from Pennsylvania.  To protect Ohioans and their domestic animals, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and other state and local agencies partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services to implement a program to immunize wild raccoons for rabies using an oral rabies vaccine (ORV).

This effort created a barrier of immune animals that reduced animal cases and prevented the spread of raccoon rabies into the rest of Ohio.  The vaccine-laden baits are dropped by fixed wing aircraft or a low-flying helicopter in rural areas or distributed by hand and from vehicles in urban neighborhoods.

The 2019 spring oral rabies vaccine bait operation occurred May 20-23, 2019.  Baits were distributed in rural areas by airplane and in urban and suburban neighborhoods by helicopter.  Approximately 330,300 vaccine-laden baits were distributed in six eastern Ohio counties (Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, Mahoning, Stark and Tuscarawas), covering about 3,234 km2.  Photos of the oral rabies vaccine bait operation can be found here.

One type of bait was used for the 2019 spring operation:

The ONRAB vaccine is enclosed in a polyvinyl chloride blister pack, which is coated with a sweet attractant containing vegetable-based fats, wax, icing sugar, vegetable oil, artificial marshmallow flavor and dark-green food dye.

Although placement is targeted to raccoon habitat, it is inevitable that some baits may end up in a yard or be found by a pet or person.  Dogs, in particular, are attracted to them.  Please refer to the information below if you or your pet finds a bait.

If you have found a bait or have questions, call the Ohio Department of Health Rabies Information Line at (614) 752-1387 or your local health department.

What if my pet eats the bait?

A few baits are not harmful, although eating a lot may cause vomiting or diarrhea.

  • Do not risk being bitten by taking the bait away from your pet.
  • Confine your pet for a couple of days and check the area for more baits.  Most baits are gone within four days.
  • Try to avoid your pet's saliva for 24 hours, and wash skin or wounds that may have been licked.

What if I find a rabies bait?

Baits should be left alone, but intact baits can be moved if they are found where children and pets play.  Damaged baits should be bagged and disposed in the trash.

  • Wear gloves or use a paper towel when picking up the bait.
  • Toss intact baits into a fence row, woodlot, ditch or other raccoon habitat area.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water after any skin contact with damaged baits.

Contact with intact baits is not harmful.  Persons who are immunocompromised or pregnant may be at risk of a reaction if the bait ruptures and vaccine gets into a mucous membrane or open wound.