The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be trapping raccoons throughout much of Tuscarawas County in the coming days and testing them for rabies in an effort to prevent the westward spread of the disease in Ohio.
The trapping will be in a radius a little more than 12 miles from Echo Lake Road in Warren Township, where a dead raccoon was found in July that tested positive for raccoon rabies variant (RRV). This is the first confirmed case of RRV in Tuscarawas County to date.
The testing area is bound on the north by Beach City and East Sparta and on the south by Port Washington and state Route 258.
Six trappers will be doing the work through Aug. 17.
RRV has been spreading west from the East Coast, and federal officials are working to make sure it goes no further into Ohio. Most cases of infected raccoons have been in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, which border Pennsylvania.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, raccoon rabies moved into northeastern Ohio from Pennsylvania in 1996. In response, the Ohio Department of Health and the USDA Wildlife Services formed a program to stop the further spread by dropping hundreds of thousands of vaccine-laden baits in a zone near the Pennsylvania border. Raccoons eat the bait and become immunized against rabies.
"It's important to make a stand here," said John Paul Seman, a supervisory wildlife biologist with the Department of Agriculture. "Tuscarawas County is such an important event because it's past the bait zone. We have to put that fire out and move the bait zone back east again."
Added Katie Seward, director of the Tuscarawas County Health Department, "This tells us that the breach in the line is farther west and farther south than what they knew."
Once the trapping is complete, officials will begin dropping bait in Tuscarawas County.
The trapping will allow officials to to find any hot spots for rabies and focus their baiting there. "They want to make sure the virus doesn't continue to breach the barrier," Seward said.
"Tuscarawas County will be one of the last ones done for baiting," Seman said. "We want to maximize our trapping effort before bait hits the ground."
Seward stressed that the trapping will be done in a humane manner.
The trappers will need to get permission from municipalities and townships to place traps on public land and from landowners on private property. Dover has already given its permission. New Philadelphia Law Director Marvin Fete is considering the request, said Lee Finley, director of environmental health for the New Philadelphia Health Department.
On Tuesday, a resident of 12th Street NW in New Philadelphia shot a raccoon that was acting strange in a cornfield next to his house. A deputy from the Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Office retrieved the animal and took it to the health department.
Last year, four raccoons tested positive for RRV in Stark County. USDA officials launched a massive surveillance effort, testing more than 1,000 animals, and dropped oral vaccine bait in Stark, Columbiana and Carroll counties.
Finley encouraged people to get their pets vaccinated against rabies. That includes indoor pets. He said there have been incidents where pets have killed bats that later tested positive for the disease. "Indoor pets need to be vaccinated. You don't want to have your animal placed in strict quarantine."
Seward advised residents to leave wildlife and feral cats alone. "If they are acting suspiciously, call the health department," she said. Rabies symptoms include drooling, walking in circles and acting agitated.
"We want to make sure people report suspicious behavior so we can respond and make sure this isn't passed along," she said.
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To protect yourself and your family from rabies:
• Do not put out feed that is attractive to mammals.
• Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals as pets, and be cautious of stray dogs or cats.
• Instruct children to leave wild animals alone. Be sure your child knows to tell you if they were bitten or scratched by an animal.
• Never leave your pets outdoors unattended, and vaccinate them against rabies.
• Tightly cap trash cans, and remove pet food that is not immediately consumed by your pet.
Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife