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  • Writer's pictureGina Scrofano

NH Rabies Control and Risk Reduction

Last month's attack by a rabid bobcat in Sunapee has left many NH residents wondering if rabies is an issue and how to reduce the spread. Although attacks such as this are infrequent, a mild concern is understandable. As a result, however, there has been speculation of a trapping season on bobcats. The problem is, that would not be an efficient form of reducing or controlling rabies statewide.(1) However, effective methods do exist, many of which are participatory among residents.

Is Rabies Common?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported, "The number of rabies-related human deaths in the US has declined from more than 100 annually at the turn of the century to one or two per year in the 1990’s."

There were 23 NH cases of rabies among animals in 2014, which is relatively low in comparison to the 1,133 cases in Texas the same year.(2) Among those 23 NH cases, none of them were bobcats. In fact, according to the NH Division of Public Health Services, there was only 1 case in which a bobcat tested positive for rabies between 2009 and 2016, comparative to a total of 12 domestic animals during that period; one cow, two goats, and nine cats.(3)

Trapping Does Not Control Rabies

According to the World Health Organization, CDC, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and several other health organizations, there is no evidence that trapping controls rabies. Due to this lack of scientific proof, the NAS went as far as to state, "Persistent trapping or poisoning campaigns as a means to rabies control should be abolished."(4)

The CDC points out that trapping causes an adverse impact on non-target species and also acknowledges it is not cost-effective stating, "Such efforts would most likely be cost prohibitive if programs relied on labor intensive trapping and shooting."(5)

Trapping Can Increase The Spread Of Disease

There is evidence that trapping can increase the spread of disease.(6) Loss of appetite is a symptom of rabies, which worsens during the latter stages of the disease in part due to paralysis of the jaw, throat, and chewing muscles. Because of this, animals with rabies do not respond to baited traps, which causes trappers to inefficiently kill healthy and immune animals as opposed to those infected. Many species will also breed more to compensate for lost numbers, causing an increase of young animals that are more vulnerable to disease.

Residents have the power to participate in some of the most effective methods for controlling and reducing the spread of disease:

1. Adopt From Responsible Shelters Adopting domestic pets from rescues or shelters helps reduce stray animals. Additionally, always do your best to make certain that the rescue, shelter, or if you choose a breeder, is responsible. This will help ensure animals are receiving proper care and vaccinations, which prevents the spread of disease. Valuable tips found here.

2. Vaccinate Your Pets

Visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and ensure that their rabies vaccinations are kept up to date.

3. Keep Your Pets Inside and Under Your Direct Supervision

Pets left to wander on their own are at high risk of contracting diseases from other animals, ticks, and contaminated water.

4. Call Help If You Find An Animal

If you come across a domestic stray or wild animal that appears to be sick, injured or in need - safety comes first. Keep a safe distance for the protection of you and the animal. Contact your local Police Department or Animal Control. You may also contact your local Humane Society or a Wildlife Rehabilitator.

5. Secure Outdoor Trash and Do Not Feed Wildlife

Store outdoor trash in animal-proof containers and never feed wild animals. Feeding wildlife greatly increases human/wildlife conflict and the transfer of disease among wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. You may think feeding wildlife is helpful, but in reality, you could be handing out a death sentence. Even animals suffering from illness and loss of appetite may also instinctively return to an area that has been providing a food source, as the animals will consider it their home.

(Photo Credit: Right, Drake Stephens/The Revelstoke Current)

6. Do Not Keep Wildlife As Domestic Pets

Wild animals are just that - wild. Not only is keeping a wild animal as a pet illegal in most cases, but it is a health and safety risk for you and the animal.

7. Support Strong State Pet Vendor/Breeder Licensing and Inspection Legislature

NH has some of the weakest laws in the nation regarding how pet vendors, breeders, and shelters obtain a license, are regulated and inspected. This allows for unchecked animal cruelty as well as the lack of proper vaccinations and health certifications, such as with the recent large-scale Great Dane case, in which potentially 84 dogs were not vaccinated or receiving medical care, putting NH animals and residents at risk. StraightTwist will keep you updated if and when you can help with strengthening that paramount legislation.

8. Other Disease Control Methods

If necessary, qualified officials may use an Oral Rabies Vaccine (ORV) Program in which palatable rabies vaccine pellets are left out for wildlife to consume, or trap-vaccinate-release programs, in which animals are trapped safely using 'live/Havahart' traps, vaccinated and then released back into the wild unharmed.

The Bottom Line

NH has many ways of reducing the spread of rabies, trapping simply isn't one them. A proposed trapping season to control a disease, especially in response to a single or rare incident, is often an attempt to manipulate the public by using fear to justify an unnecessary trophy or pelt hunt, and such attempts would only result in time and money wasted. Resources are more efficiently spent on cost-effective methods, such as awareness programs to show residents how they can significantly contribute to public safety and reduce the risk of disease long-term.

(*) Trapping in this article (unless otherwise stated) refers to baited trapping in which there is intent to kill the trapped animal and is not to be confused with recommended trap-vaccinate-release programs, in which 'live traps' are used for safe capture, vaccination, and release.

(1) Public Veterinary Medicine: Public Health, Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control, 2016. JAVMA, Vol 248, No. 5, March 1, 2016 ("Continuous and persistent programs for trapping or poisoning wildlife are not effective in reducing populations of wildlife rabies reservoir species on a statewide basis.")

(2) Public Veterinary Medicine: Public Health, Rabies surveillance in the United States during 2014. JAVMA, Vol 248, No. 7, April 1, 2016

(3) NH Division of Public Health Services, Public Health Laboratories: Rabies Monthly Reports, 2009-2016

(4) National Research Council, Subcommittee on Rabies. Control of Rabies. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, 1973

(5) Recommendations of a national working group on prevention and control of rabies in the United States, Article III: Rabies in wildlife, 1999. JAVMA, Vol 215, No. 11, December 1, 1999, Vet Med Today; Special Series-Article III

(6) Controlling Wildlife Rabies through Population Reduction: An Ineffective Method. The Rabies Monitor, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1996.

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