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Why rabies vaccines are falling from the skies in Maine

Every year, vaccines are spread across parts of northern and central Maine in an effort to lower the spread of raccoons rabies.

HOULTON, Maine — In some parts of Maine on Wednesday, vaccines were literally falling from the sky, but they weren't ordinary vaccines, and they’re part of an important program.

Every year since 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services has teamed up with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to distribute oral rabies vaccine baits across parts of Maine. 

This year, about 385,000 vaccines were distributed either by airplane or vehicle in northern and central parts of the state. 

"Anyone who's living in an area where we're distributing these vaccine baits is going to benefit in some manner," USDA Rabies Field Coordinator Jordona Kirby said. "We are trying to vaccinate wildlife to prevent the spread of rabies among those populations, but the reason we're doing that is, of course, to protect human health and safety, as well as domestic pets and livestock."

Kirby added that this is all part of a national effort to prevent the spread of raccoon rabies, including Canada, which has a similar program of its own.  

"We have to focus our efforts further to the north at first," explained Kirby. "The overall long-term goal for our rabies management activities in Maine is to eventually push down further into those areas where there are more cases, but we have to be able to eliminate it locally."

She said the area with the most cases of raccoon rabies in Maine is along the coast. 

So far, Kirby said the program has been successful at preventing any substantial spread of the viral disease.  

The vaccine baits are expected to be picked up by wildlife within a couple of days. if you come across one, it’s best to leave it alone, but you can move it to a wooded area. 

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