Tuscarawas County, Ohio - Federal wildlife officials are stepping up their efforts to prevent the spread of raccoon rabies in Tuscarawas County.
Officials from the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have been in the area since last week planning their response to the county’s first confirmed case of Raccoon Rabies Variant, or RRV.
The rabies-positive raccoon was found deceased last month near Echo Lake Road in Warren Township near Goshen Township.
USDA officials say they’re planning a vaccine drop in the area where the raccoon was found.
John Paul Seman is a supervisory wildlife biologist for the USDA’s Sandusky District. He says the drop will occur in the area where the rabies-positive raccoon was collected immediately after the drop in Stark County, which is scheduled between August 21 and August 24.
The vaccines will be placed into baits coated or encased in fishmeal to make them more attractive to wildlife and dropped from fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
Tuscarawas County Health Commissioner Katie Seward explains that baiting operations are designed to immunize raccoons that are at greatest risk of being exposed to the virus to create an "immune barrier" and prevent the spread of the virus into additional areas.
In the meantime, the USDA will be trapping and testing raccoons and skunks in the area where the rabies-positive raccoon was collected and in surrounding parts of the county.
“Right now, they’re in the monitoring phase of that, so they’re doing some trapping, and they’re testing all the animals they’re trapping currently to determine what the scope of the problem is. We’re determining the scope of that problem so we better know where to put baits out, the vaccine baits that are going to be distributed by air,” Seman says. “They’re already doing a bait drop to the east of all this, and this case made it behind that original bait zone.”
Seman says the trapping zone is bound to the north by Beach City and East Sparta and to the south by Port Washington and Rt. 258 and includes areas in or near New Philadelphia, Dover and Bolivar.
“We’re searching now for additional positives to make sure it hasn’t made it any farther north, south or west,” he says.
The traps will be placed on both public and private property in places that raccoons typically like to visit including wooded areas and ditches and around ponds or waterways, according to Seman.
“It could be a number of places: ditches, around ponds or waterways, those kinds of things,” he says. “It could be around houses, too, if somebody gives us permission to do that.”
If additional animals test positive for the virus prior to the upcoming vaccine drop, Seman says the bait zone could potentially be expanded to other areas.
“If we find it prior to this bait drop, the bait drop zone will probably change a little bit and maybe expanded depending on if it’s farther west or south or something along those lines,” he says.
In the meantime, residents are encouraged to have their pets vaccinated against rabies and to avoid contact with wildlife.
“In general, you want to avoid contact with any wild animal and let animals be wild,” Seman says. “Definitely, leave those types of things alone. You can always give somebody a call if you’re worried about the animal. The local health department is a good start.”
The last low-cost rabies vaccination clinic for the season has been scheduled for Saturday, August 18, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Tuscarawas County Health Department, located at 897 East Iron Ave. in Dover. The cost is $10 per vaccination, cash only. Vaccinations will be offered on a walk-in basis, and no appointment is needed. Only 150 doses are available, and vaccinations will be provided on a first-come-first-served basis.
In regards to the vaccine drop, the Tuscarawas County Health Department asks that residents keep the following information in mind:
For more information and questions, the Tuscarawas County Health Department can be reached by calling 330-343-5550 or emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stacey Carmany, TuscoTV