Information on USDA/NCDH Rabies Vaccination Program

The Town was made aware that the USDA, in conjunction with the NC Department of Health, distributed rabies vaccination bait packets throughout Western North Carolina within the past week. This program is an effort to vaccinate raccoon populations in the region. We now know approximately 6,100 bait packets were hand-distributed throughout Buncombe County, including within the Town.

Please know: the Town was not made aware of this program until being contacted by residents. Several residents reported seeing these packets in their yard, driveway, or within Town parks. Several residents noted their dogs have picked these packets up and brought them back to their house.   The information below is provided by the USDA and NC Department of Health related to these packets. The information includes what to do if you encounter these bait packets. Contact information regarding this program, or questions and concerns related to the bait packet, is found at the bottom of this information.

Talking Points: North Carolina Oral Rabies Vaccination Program

October 2021

• This program is a cooperative effort among the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the North Carolina Department of Health

• The goal of the Wildlife Services, National Rabies Management Program is to prevent the spread of raccoon rabies by containing and eliminating the virus.

• To stop the spread of this deadly disease, we’re using the latest in science and technology to vaccinate the raccoon population and using our knowledge of foraging behaviors to ensure the animals are able to find the baits.

• Wildlife Services will be distributing baits in early to mid-October and will continue to monitor the locations of rabies-positive raccoon cases.

• We have been distributing oral rabies vaccination baits in North Carolina since 2005.

• Beginning on or about October 5, 2021, >500,000 baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be distributed in parts of the following counties by fixed wing aircraft: Cherokee, Clay, Macon, Jackson, Graham, Swain, Haywood, Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe, Yancey, Madison, Mitchell, Ashe, Alleghany and Wilkes.

• Beginning on or about October 6, 2021 approximately 56,700 baits containing the oral rabies vaccine will be distributed in greater Asheville, Burnsville, Mars Hill and Waynesville, NC by helicopter.

• In urban areas of Asheville, ground teams are distributing approximately 6,100 baits by hand. These baits consist of vaccine sachets encased inside fishmeal polymer baits about the size of a matchbox.

• The entire project is expected to be completed by the middle of October, depending on weather and other factors.

• The baits contain a vaccine that once consumed by a raccoon will vaccinate the animal against the rabies virus.

• The ORV baits consist of a sachet, or plastic packet, containing the rabies vaccine. To make the baits attractive, the packets are sprinkled with a fishmeal coating or encased inside hard fishmeal–polymer blocks about the size of a matchbox.

• As the number of vaccinated animals in the population increases, they act as a buffer to stop the spread of the disease to other wildlife, domestic animals, and people.

• Wildlife does not recognize borders so cooperation with neighboring states is crucial to the success of the program.

• When a raccoon bites into a bait, the vaccine packet is punctured allowing the vaccine into the animal’s mouth. The raccoon’s immune system is then tricked into thinking it has been exposed to the rabies virus and makes antibodies to fight the disease. The blueprint on how to make these antibodies is stored in the raccoon’s immune system, allowing its body to respond should it be exposed to a rabid animal.

• Wildlife Services monitors the status of raccoons and locations of rabies-positive cases. The most current positive raccoon rabies cases are typically located on the eastern edge of the vaccination zone.

• Wildlife Services appreciates the assistance of the public by reporting strange acting animals to local animal control offices or to Wildlife Services toll-free at 1-866-4-USDA-WS.


Tips for Public Encountering Baits or Bait Contact

  1.  If you find a bait, leave it where you found it unless it is on your lawn, driveway, or other area unlikely to attract raccoons. While wearing a glove, you can move the bait to an area of thicker cover where raccoons are more to likely find it.
  2.  Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with baits. An intact bait will not harm you, but the fishmeal smell may get on your skin. If a bait is broken and the liquid vaccine is visible, use gloves to place the bait in a bag and dispose of it with your regular trash. Once the bait has ruptured, it will no longer be effective. Again, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with a bait.
  3. This vaccine has been shown to be safe in over 60 different species of animals, including domestic dogs and cats. Eating a large number of baits may cause a temporarily upset stomach in your pet but does not pose a long-term health risk. Do not attempt to remove a bait from your pet; doing so may cause you to be bitten.
  4.  The vaccine does not contain the live rabies virus; however, it contains a single gene that may cause a local pox-type infection in people who are pregnant or have an immunodeficiency disease. Anyone who comes into contact with the liquid vaccine should wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and call the phone number listed on the bait or your local health department for further instructions and referral.

 General rabies prevention messages

 Please do not feed wildlife. It could lead to a rabies exposure.

  • Avoid contact with all wildlife, even innocent or orphaned juveniles.  
  • Please do not move wildlife. 
  • Please make sure to vaccinate your domestic pets and livestock to protect them from contracting the rabies virus.

 Visuals are available for download at:

 More information is available at:

Wildlife Services Office:  1-866-4-USDA-WS (1-866-487-3297).