Rabies Vaccine (“Bait Drop”): Safe for Humans?

This post is meant to provide information about the rabies bait drops. This information is available to the public, but it is not being provided to media outlets. Media outlets are increasingly writing articles based on corporate-sponsored, ghostwritten stories provided to them and not carrying on any investigation into details. Needless to say, rabies and other dangerous infectious diseases should be taken seriously. Field trials which may cause harmful or untested exposures to engineered pathogens should concern us equally or perhaps more.

August 11, 2016:

Beginning this month, APHIS’ Wildlife Services program will distribute more than 2.3 million ONRAB oral rabies vaccination baits in parts of Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and West Virginia to test the immune effects in targeted wildlife. Wildlife Services personnel will sample raccoons and skunks in the study areas both prior to and following bait distribution to determine vaccination rates. – http://www.usagnet.com/state_headlines/state_story.php?tble=NY2016&ID=761

There is an experimental, live (adeno)virus rabies vaccine again being dropped by air across Vermont and year after year, the public is assured the test vaccine is “safe” (see: Rutland Herald, “Don’t be Alarmed…”). However, adenovirus has the ability to infect most mammalian cell types including humans. Should we be concerned?

Adenoviruses are responsible for a spectrum of respiratory disease as well as infection of the stomach and intestine, eyes, and bladder. Patients with compromised immune systems are especially susceptible to severe complications of adenovirus infection. Adenoviruses are transmitted by direct contact, fecal-oral transmission, and occasionally waterborne transmission. Shedding of the virus can occur for months or years after the initial infection. – Considerations for Viral Disease Eradication: Lessons Learned and Future Strategies: Workshop Summary ( 2002 )

An environmental assessment was performed by the USDA (read here). In it you find statement such as this one:

In the unlikely event that an animal consumes the vaccine within the ORV bait block that animal would lose organic status…”

Do not touch without gloves!

The safety assessment was updated in 2015 and claims there is low risk to the environment, humans, target animal and non target animals.

However – There was no safety testing in humans prior to release of this experimental vaccine. Safety testing is being performed “in real time” which basically means that if you come into contact with the vaccine packet, then your are part of the experiment. The CDC put out a summary of exposures here wherein they make statements such as the following:

Continued surveillance of human contacts with oral rabies vaccine baits and public warnings to avoid contact with baits are needed because of the potential for vaccine virus infection.
In other words, it is anybody’s best guess as to what human infection with this new genetically engineered virus might do.
Note that adenovirus (named after the human adenoid, which it infects), often infects the airways – this can appear as a “cold” (e.g., sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, cough, headache, chills), croup, or bronchitis. Illness usually lasts three to five days, but serious infections can last weeks. Complications can include middle ear infections, pneumonia, or meningitis. Some types of adenovirus cause other illnesses, such as skin rash, conjunctivitis (pink-eye,) bladder infections, or bowel infections (e.g., diarrhea). Read more.

According to information for the public from the Vermont Department of Health (here),

“This project will not get rid of rabies. This research project is simply an experiment to see whether a raccoon population in a given geographical area can be vaccinated with a bait drop, and to find out which methods are most effective.”

Apparently, we should all just relax because the experts have things under control and, as they love to say: “the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Questions? Call the Vermont Rabies Hotline: 1-800-4-RABIES (1-800-472-2437)

Note that “similar” baits have been dropped in the past; this is the 20th year in Vermont! However, previous baits contained a different vector (live vaccinia). The NEJM reported on the risk to humans of this older vaccine here in 2001.