Rabies vaccine expansion aims to protect St. John River Valley

The expansion of the province's wildlife rabies vaccination program is driven by a desire to keep rabies from spreading into the St. John River Valley, which has a higher density of raccoons.

Higher density of raccoons exist in river valleys, agricultural areas and cities

New Brunswick is expanding its wildlife rabies vaccine program in an attempt to keep the disease out of the St. John River Valley, where raccoons are more prevalent. (CBC)

The expansion of the province's wildlife rabies vaccination program is driven by a desire to keep rabies from spreading into the St. John River Valley, which has a higher density of raccoons.

After being concentrated in Charlotte County, the program is expanding this summer to include Fredericton, Saint John, and Carleton County.

"We're hoping to keep the rabies virus out of the St. John River Valley," said provincial veterinarian Jim Goltz. "We know that there is a higher density of raccoons in river valleys, agricultural areas and cities."

"We just figured strategically, both Fredericton and Saint John would be ideal places to have boundaries for our preventive actions."

This year's program will see 500,000 baited vaccines distributed by air and by hand, which is more than double the number distributed previously. At about $2 per vaccine, the cost of the program is about $1 million.

Last year saw 200,000 vaccines distributed in Charlotte County.

The vaccine is contained in a plastic capsule that is encased in a coating of sugar, marshmallow, artificial vanilla flavouring and wax. When a raccoon or other animal ingests the vaccine it protects them against rabies within two weeks.

"Raccoons and skunks and other wild animals can smell this and when they smell it, they go out and seek it out and bite into it," said Goltz.

About 75 of the baited vaccines will be distributed per square kilometre in rural areas.

The bait is not harmful to humans, pets, livestock or the environment.

Rabies is fatal to wildlife, pets and livestock. It can kill people if untreated.

There were 27 confirmed rabies cases in New Brunswick last year. Most were in Charlotte County but one case was recorded as far north as McAdam, in York County.

Goltz said it is estimated three are three to four raccoons in every square kilometre of wooded area. There is no estimate for urban areas in New Brunswick, but Goltz said some urban areas have recorded more than 100 raccoons per square kilometre.

With files from Catherine Harrop