PETERBOROUGH -- The Ministry of Natural Resources is fighting raccoon rabies tooth and nail in efforts to curb the northward and westward spread of the disease.
The ministry recently undertook the third phase of their plan by air-dropping 50,000 baits containing oral rabies vaccine, Raboral V-RG, in a 10 km strip around Prescott and Brockville, where two rabid raccoons were discovered in July.
"In total we have covered a 20 km zone around the affected area," said Dr. Rick Rosatte, a research scientist with MNR's Rabies Research Unit in Peterborough.
MNR planes dropped thousands of baits in upper New York State in the area surrounding Ogdensburg, said Rosatte.
"We did this to prevent the movement of rabid raccoons by immunizing them in New York State," he said. "It may slow or reduce the number coming into Ontario."
The New York drops were partially funded by the MNR, the New York State board of Health, and Cornell University, he said.
"We're putting all our effort into keeping raccoon rabies from coming out of New York."
New York isn't the only state the ministry is targeting. Rosatte said there are currently MNR planes conducting air-drops in Ohio, Vermont, and Texas.
The Ohio drops are to control the westward spread of the rabies strain. He said Quebec ministries are currently setting up a program similar to Ontario's to prevent the rabid animals from spreading into Quebec.
Drops in Vermont, Ohio, and Texas, where ministry planes are dropping coyote rabies vaccines, are being paid for in U.S. funds, he said.
"We are actually making money for the province."
The raccoon rabies strain exists in a 1-million square kilometre area from Florida to New York, and Maine and Ohio, he said.
The drops along both sides of the St. Lawrence River are necessary to create a buffer zone of immunized animals.
MNR's raccoon rabies program started in July when two animals infected with the disease were discovered in the Prescott-Brockville area.
The first phase involved trapping and euthanising approximately 250 raccoons and 200 skunks in a five kilometre strip of land surrounding the affected area. The next phase involved live trapping and injecting vaccine into animals in a five km zone adjacent to the first, said Rosatte.
MNR is a recognized world leader in immunizing wildlife against rabies. The ministry's highly successful immunization program against fox rabies has virtually eliminated fox rabies in Ontario.
"I am proud to say that this government's commitment to combating rabies makes us the only jurisdiction in Canada with aggressive control programs against rabies in wildlife," said Natural Resources Minister John Snobelen. "Tackling raccoon rabies through wildlife immunization is the most cost-effective strategy we can use."