Vaccinia/Rabies Wildlife Bait
Dropped From The Sky

By Mary Sparrowdancer
Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved

In the autumn of 2000, a 28-year-old pregnant woman found her dog in the process of eating a wildlife bait intended to curb rabies in raccoons. As she attempted to remove the bait from the dog's mouth, the woman - who also reportedly had a chronic skin condition - received a puncture wound to her finger and a superficial abrasion on her forearm. Three days later, she developed two blisters on her arm, which then developed into lesions. Six days following the bite, she visited her doctor who treated her with an antibiotic. Two days later, with progressive pain, swelling and the formation of necrotic (dead) tissue, the woman went to the emergency room where she was admitted into the hospital and given various intravenous medications.
On the third day of hospitalization, her condition worsened and the necrotic area increased in size. The woman was taken to surgery for drainage of the wounds, although doctors noted there was very little infectious material present. Two days later, after experiencing a degree of improvement, the woman was released from the hospital. Within three days after her release, however, she again returned to the emergency room, this time with a generalized rash, burning sensations, facial tightness and exfoliation. Five days later, a thick layer of skin sloughed off the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands.
Perhaps miraculously, the symptoms then began to subside and both the woman and her unborn child reportedly survived this ordeal. In searching for "cause and effect," the case history revealed that the woman's ordeal was caused by her inadvertent contact with the bait she was attempting to take away from her dog. The bait contained the recombinant vaccinia/rabies glycoprotein, which is an oral vaccine intended to control rabies in raccoons. As the name implies, the bait also carries vaccinia. Vaccinia is the immunizing agent used in smallpox vaccines. (CDC)
We in America might assume that the rather disturbing account described above probably took place "elsewhere" -- that it must have occurred in a developing nation struggling with a serious rabies epidemic, and that it is a situation that definitely qualifies as a NIMBY: a Not In My Back Yard project. We, of course, presume we are certainly safe from such strange and potentially horrifying contaminations.
The truth is, however, the above event occurred two years ago in the northeastern part of Ohio. The description of the woman's infection and ordeal with vaccinia appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in a case report authored in part by CDC's Dr. Charles Rupprecht. (Journal.)
Although according to the USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service, (APHIS), and the FDA, there has never been a reported human rabies death directly or indirectly connected to a raccoon, the distribution of the oral wildlife vaccination for raccoon rabies has been conducted in the United States since 1990. The first release of the recombinant vaccine bait occurred on Parramore Island, VA, with other efforts then following in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Vermont, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Texas. At this time, tens of millions of the baits have been dropped or otherwise distributed. In an interview with Health Scout News, Dr. Rupprecht described the recombinant vaccinia-rabies vaccine as being one of "firsts." It is the first oral vaccine for rabies to be used in the United States, the first bait ever to be used to control the disease in raccoons, the first wildlife vaccine used in the United States, and "it was the first release of a genetically modified organism in the world." (Health.) According to an October 1995 report prepared by Tufts University titled, "BioScience," it was also among the only live "inter-generic" genetically engineered microorganism to be approved for sale in the United States.
While the World Health Organization states on their website that widespread use of vaccinia as a human smallpox protection is not recommended due to potentially serious complications and that no governments are currently giving or recommending it for routine use, (W.H.O.), the fact remains that it has and is being released into the environment via planes, helicopters and field personnel.
In the same New England Journal of Medicine article referenced above, Dr. Rupprecht and others noted that in northeast Ohio alone, from spring of 1997 to fall of 2000, 3.6 million baits were deployed over an area of approximately 2500 square miles. The baits were dropped by planes flying over "uniform grid lines 0.3 miles apart." The baits have been found in yards, near homes, in public areas such as parks, on sidewalks and roads, a possible contamination in a cattle feedlot - and dogs attracted to the aroma of the baits have retrieved them and brought them home.
We are a nation collectively and figuratively holding our breath in fear that a first, suspicious outbreak of smallpox might occur at any time. Many fear that such an event will trigger a government mandate forcing mass "Vaccinia (Smallpox) Vaccinations" to immunize people against smallpox. Since we now know that vaccinia infection in humans can result from contact with the recombinant vaccinia-rabies oral vaccine bait intended for raccoons, and because there is a nationwide "watch" for pox-like infections at this time, it is both prudent and well-advised for those involved in dropping this bait to give ample, appropriate notice to unsuspecting citizens prior to planned drops, and to issue wide-scale warnings about possible vaccinia infection from the bait.
In addition to urging both public and professional awareness of possible vaccinia risks from the baits, the doctors writing in the Journal also called for the public to be widely cautioned against handling the small biscuits falling from the sky, that the public be alerted prior to each sky-drop, that the public keep their pets indoors after a "drop," that they wash their hands carefully and thoroughly following inadvertent exposure to the baits, and that they contact their physicians for further medical advice.
Works Cited
APHIS. United States EPA. Federal Register Environmental Documents. 12/10/02 <> <>
CDC. Vaccinia (Smallpox) Vaccine Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2001. June 22, 2001. 12/11/02 <>
HealthScoutNews. Sherman, Neil. Wildlife Rabies Vaccine Infects Woman. August 23, 2001. 12/08/02. < WildlifeRabiesVaxInfectsWoman.htm>
Journal. New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 345. No. 8. August 23, 2001. 12/07/02
W.H.O. World Health Organization. Frequently Asked Questions. October 26, 2001.12/10/02 <>
Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved May Not Be Reproduced Without Written Permission Of Author
Mary Sparrowdancer was a wildlife rehabilitator for eighteen years, and has cared for over twenty-thousand wild birds and animals, including endangered species. She is a professional writer and the author of, "The Love Song of the Universe," published by Hampton Roads. She can be reached at


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