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RIVERDALE, Md., Nov. 7, 2003--On Nov. 14, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee officials will begin rabies vaccine bait drops in an effort to stop the westward spread of raccoon rabies by orally vaccinating raccoons against the fatal disease.

The program is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's wildlife services program, which will distribute approximately 400,000 vaccine baits across portions of northeastern Alabama, northwestern Georgia and south central Tennessee near Chattanooga. In Tennessee USDA distributed 261,000 vaccine-loaded baits throughout seven northeast Tennessee counties earlier this fall.

Approximately 233,000 vaccine-filled baits will be disbursed across a 1,447 square-mile area in Alabama; 93,000 baits will be distributed across a 566 square-mile area in Georgia, and 69,000 fishmeal vaccines will be sent to Tennessee to cover 390 square-miles. The majority of the lures for Tennessee raccoons will be distributed by hand in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area beginning Nov. 15. Low-flying planes will dispense the bulk of the fishmeal vaccine baits in forested and rural areas in Alabama and Georgia through mid-November, with dispersal by hand in northeastern Alabama's populated areas and in Georgia towns.

The bait distribution area includes five counties in Alabama: Cherokee,
DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson and Marshall. Four Georgia counties will receive
oral rabies vaccines for raccoons: Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker.
Three Tennessee counties are involved in the November vaccination effort:
Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie.

People and pets cannot get rabies from coming into contact with the baits
and are asked to leave the cubes undisturbed should they encounter them.
For additional information concerning the oral rabies vaccine program,
please contact USDA's wildlife services toll-free at 1-866-4 USDA-WS

Rabies in raccoons was virtually unknown prior to the 1950s when it was
first described in Florida. Four laboratory-confirmed cases of raccoon
rabies were seen for the first time north of the Coosa River in Alabama
within the last 14 months. Recently, Georgia reported 35 raccoon rabies
cases in Walker County alone. Tennessee had no cases of raccoon rabies
until this year, when it became the 20th state to document raccoon rabies.
Five cases have been identified in the easternmost tip of Tennessee in
Carter and Johnson counties--east of the baiting area.

Raccoon rabies is caused by a virus that attacks the brain. Symptoms
include unusual behavior, an inability to eat or drink, balance problems,
circling, seizures, coma and finally death. By vaccinating raccoons against
rabies, USDA and its state cooperators are working to significantly reduce
the number of animals that can serve as reservoirs of the disease and
infect other wildlife, domestic animals or humans. USDA currently works
with 15 states to distribute oral rabies vaccine baits. They include:
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health and with the state's
Department of Agriculture and Industries are partners in the November
raccoon rabies vaccination effort. Northwest Georgia Public Health's
Environmental Health division is helping implement the baiting program at
the local level in the four northwest Georgia counties included in the
program, along with the state's Department of Human Resources Division of
Public Health, Department of Natural Resources and Department of
Agriculture. Tennessee's Department of Health, in tandem with regional
health departments, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the state's
Wildlife Resources Agency is also partnered with USDA to halt the spread of raccoon rabies.

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