LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding testing of a new rabies vaccine to Virginia, Ohio and the St. Lawrence Seaway region following initial success in West Virginia.
USDA wildlife biologist John Houber said trials of the ONRAB vaccine at the additional sites will allow the agency to confirm the results of initial testing in Greenbrier County. The USDA also plans a second year of trials in West Virginia.
The Register-Herald reported Houber discussed the vaccine trials this week during a meeting of the Greenbrier County Commission.
About 80,000 baits laced with the vaccine were air-dropped in Greenbrier County last fall in the first field trial in the U.S.
Houber said the vaccine's effectiveness rate was nearly 50 percent. The expected first-year effectiveness rate for a rabies vaccine is 15 percent.
USDA officials have said the vaccine is particularly attractive to skunks because it has a sweet coating. Baits that have been used in the U.S. over the past decade have a fishy scent and flavor and target raccoons. Skunks and raccoons are the most frequent bearers of rabies in the Eastern U.S.
Only one skunk in Greenbrier County has tested positive for rabies this year, and it was found outside the bait drop area, Houber said.
The County Commission requested state and federal help to combat rabies after more than 40 cases were confirmed in 2009. The county's efforts to fight the disease and its large population of raccoons were factors in testing the vaccine there.
If left untreated, rabies can be fatal.