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Health officials hoping MacDill raccoons will take the bait

Raccoons got a special treat last week, as hundreds of spiked snacks were airdropped on the base for their dining pleasure.

The granola-like blocks of bait contain rabies vaccine and are part of a countywide public health initiative to vaccinate the species primarily responsible for the spread of the deadly disease. Once a raccoon eats the bait, it is immunized against rabies, which, according to health officials, significantly cuts down on the instance of infection among domestic animals and people.

Lt. Col. Yolanda Geddie, public health flight commander, said time will tell how effective the vaccination program is, but she suspects it will go a long way toward heading off the usual summer rise in rabies cases.

"It (the baiting) provides a buffer zone to prevent the spread to animals," said Geddie. "We want to stop it (rabies) dead in its tracks and this is one way to do that." Geddie said it is not known how many raccoons live on the base, but she has seen a good number of them here. Some 1,400 pieces of the bait were placed around the base, which is estimated to be enough to reach most of the raccoon population, she said.

Geddie said anyone coming across one of the baits should leave it alone. She has the same advice for anyone who encounters any other wild animal. A witness to people feeding raccoons on base, she said the practice is dangerous for people and animals alike.

"It's when the raccoons lose their fear that they get close enough to people to bite them," she said. Unless the animal that inflicted the bite can be caught and observed or tested, there is little choice but to begin a series of antidote shots to ward off the possibility of death, said Geddie.

As part of the program, raccoons will be captured and tested to determine if they have eaten the bait. Blood tests and an examination of the animal's teeth reveal whether the raccoon has taken the bait.

Foxes and other animals that eat the bait are also vaccinated, she said. The baits are harmless to domestic animals and, because they do not contain the rabies virus, will not infect a human should one be ingested, said Geddie. She speculates that humans, even young children, would not find the baits, which smell like fish, very appealing.




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