For Immediate Release: August 3, 2023

Media Contacts:

Ben Truman Vermont Department of Health 802-316-2117 | [email protected]

David Sausville
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

Owen Montgomery
U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services
802-223- 8697


Annual Vermont Rabies Vaccine Bait Drop Begins
Distribution of baited vaccine helps limit and reduce wildlife rabies

BURLINGTON, VT – Amid an increase in reports of rabies in racoons, the annual Rabies Vaccine Bait Drop began on August 1, 2023. For nearly 30 years, the bait drop has been part of a nationally coordinated effort between the Vermont Department of Health, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to prevent the spread of rabies – a fatal disease. A special bait drop focused on rabies among wildlife in Chittenden County took place earlier this year.

Rabies vaccine — in the form of a sweet-smelling oral bait that is attractive to raccoons and skunks — will be placed by hand in residential centers beginning on August 1, and dropped in rural areas from low-flying aircraft between August 5 – 10. The pilots are able to control the release of bait in order to avoid residential areas. When an animal bites into the bait, it takes in the oral vaccine and will develop immunity to rabies.

Approximately 265,000 quarter-sized blister packs containing rabies vaccine will be distributed in nearly 100 Vermont communities across eight counties: Addison, Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Lamoille, Orange, Orleans, and Washington.

Rabies is a deadly viral disease of the brain that infects mammals. Rabies is most often seen in raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats, but unvaccinated pets and livestock can also get the disease. The virus is spread primarily through the bite of an infected animal. If left untreated, the disease is almost always fatal in humans and animals. However, post-exposure treatment is 100% effective when given soon after a person is bitten by a rabid animal.

So far this year, 23 animals in Vermont have tested positive for rabies, 12 of which have been raccoons.

Public Health Veterinarian Natalie Kwit with the Department of Health said the bait packs are not poisonous and are not harmful to people, pets or wildlife. “You can’t get rabies from the bait,” said Dr. Kwit, “but if you find a bait pack, please don’t touch it unless necessary. Leave the bait undisturbed so it can be eaten by wild animals.”

If the bait must be moved, use gloves or a plastic bag. If your pet eats a bait, or if a child brings one home, let officials know by calling the Vermont Rabies Hotline at 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437) or call the toll-free number printed on the bait.

Wildlife officials reminded Vermonters to leave wildlife alone and enjoy them from a safe distance. “While rabid animals may change their normal behavior, you can’t tell whether an animal has rabies simply by looking at it,” said USDA Wildlife Biologist Owen Montgomery. “People should not touch or pick up wild animals or strays – even baby animals that may appear abandoned. They most likely are not. Interacting with young wildlife may result in them being orphaned or require testing them for rabies.”

Leave wild animals alone for their sake, and for your own safety. Touching, moving, or picking up wild animals may put yourself or your family at risk of rabies or other diseases, and testing an animal for rabies requires euthanizing it. Moving or handling wild animals can also contribute to the spread of rabies into new areas. 

  • If you see a wild or stray animal acting strangely or are concerned about a rabies exposure, call the Vermont Rabies Hotline at 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437) or 1-802-223-8697.
  • If you are bitten by an animal, wash the wound very well with soap and water and contact your health care provider as soon as possible.
  • Make sure your pets and farm animals are up to date on their rabies vaccine. State law requires dogs and cats to be vaccinated against rabies — even barn cats. Always feed pets inside the house and keep them indoors at night. If they are outdoors during the day, keep them on a leash or in an enclosed space. Pets that roam free are more likely to be exposed to rabies. If your pet or farm animal was bitten by a wild or stray animal that might have rabies, contact your veterinarian.

Learn more about rabies in Vermont:

Find more about the 2023 Rabies Vaccine Bait Drop and where it is happening here.  

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Photos: Rabies bait blister packs
Images courtesy Vermont Department of Health


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