Province will drop 500K rabies vaccines to eliminate virus

Maple-scented, marshmallow-coated rabies vaccines will be distributed throughout New Brunswick this week in a bid to eliminate the fatal, brain-altering virus.

With rabies detected in Maine, New Brunswick looks to eliminate virus in wild animals with tasty vaccines

Rabies vaccines have a wax coating that smells of maple. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Maple-scented, marshmallow-coated rabies vaccines will be distributed throughout New Brunswick this week in a bid to eliminate the fatal, brain-altering virus. 

Jim Goltz, the chief provincial veterinarian, said raccoons, skunks and foxes quickly sniff out vaccine when it's encased in fat, marshmallow and sugar.

Two weeks after an animal bites into the capsule, which contains the human adenovirus type 5, "the body of that animal is fooled into thinking it's encountered the rabies virus and it has immunity against rabies."

The dull, olive-coloured baits are designed to blend into the woods. But Goltz is asking people to leave the capsules alone if they find them. 

While not harmful to pets or people, Goltz said leaving them where they are ensures they will be eaten by one of the target species.

Vaccine baits dropped via aircraft, by hand

Dr. Jim Goltz, the province's chief veterinarian, shows the rabies vaccine set to be spread across southwestern New Brunswick. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Specially-equipped aircraft are set to fly starting on Monday in lines along the western border of the province, distributing 500,000 vaccine baits at a rate of about 75 baits per square kilometre.

The drop routes are pre-programmed to avoid bodies of water and densely-populated areas. At about $2 per vaccine, the cost of the program is about $1 million.

"We want the baits to fall in places where the wild animals will find them," says Goltz.

"Within three to five days, we will have covered a huge swath of about 5,000 square kilometres."

According to estimates, there are three to four raccoons in every square kilometre of wooded area.

While there's no similar estimate for urban areas in New Brunswick, Goltz said some have recorded more than 100 raccoons per square kilometre.

In densely-populated areas, the bait will be dropped by hand "in hedgerows, near dumpsters, in green spaces, and other places where the target species hang out."

Mid-August is the ideal time to start the program, said Goltz, since at this point most young animals are eating on their own.

Program expanded this year

New Brunswick is expanding its wildlife rabies vaccine program in an attempt to keep the disease out of the St. John River Valley. (CBC)
All 27 rabies cases confirmed in New Brunswick in 2015 were in Charlotte County.

Still, the prevention program has been expanded this year to include Fredericton, Saint John and Carleton County.

"We're looking at where rabies is occurring nearby and we see that it's spreading northward. Some of the cases have been showing up very close to Vanceboro, Maine, and we don't want any more in our province."

South of the border, Goltz said, wildlife officials have "a whole different philosophy" when it comes to controlling rabies, focusing on preventing the spread of the virus rather than eliminating it.

He said he'd like to see more vaccine distribution along the Maine-New Brunswick border.

He said the number of reported cases indicates the success of the program so far.

"Last year, before we began anything, we had 24 cases in the entire year: this year so far, we've had one case detected in wild animals. That alone lets us understand that rabies vaccination is working," he said.

"We are going to have to continue this for several years, and carefully monitor what's going on adjacent to us in Maine, and also in our own province, to decide how much effort we have to put into this."

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