USDA program combats raccoon rabies by air

As rabies declines in raccoons, it’s rising in bats

Every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes to the sky, scattering 9 million baits filled with rabies vaccines to be gobbled up by raccoons (Procyon lotor). On the ground, staff members tuck baits into bushes and restaurant dumpsters. 

“Any area that looks like a raccoon habitat, we stop there,” Kathy Nelson, a wildlife biologist at the USDA, tells Undark.

Since the first case of raccoon rabies was detected in Florida in 1947, the virus has spread across the eastern U.S. Biologists say the bait program has reduced rabies infections in raccoons, but now the virus is on the rise in bats. In 2021, bats had the most frequently reported cases of rabies in wildlife, and the risk of people getting bitten by rabid bats is on the rise.

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Header Image: A USDA effort to vaccinate raccoons from rabies has reduced the spread of the virus. Credit: USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service