- In the autumn of 2000, a 28-year-old pregnant woman found
her dog in the process of eating a wildlife bait intended to curb rabies
in raccoons. As she attempted to remove the bait from the dog's mouth,
the woman - who also reportedly had a chronic skin condition - received
a puncture wound to her finger and a superficial abrasion on her forearm.
Three days later, she developed two blisters on her arm, which then developed
into lesions. Six days following the bite, she visited her doctor who treated
her with an antibiotic. Two days later, with progressive pain, swelling
and the formation of necrotic (dead) tissue, the woman went to the emergency
room where she was admitted into the hospital and given various intravenous
- On the third day of hospitalization, her condition worsened
and the necrotic area increased in size. The woman was taken to surgery
for drainage of the wounds, although doctors noted there was very little
infectious material present. Two days later, after experiencing a degree
of improvement, the woman was released from the hospital. Within three
days after her release, however, she again returned to the emergency room,
this time with a generalized rash, burning sensations, facial tightness
and exfoliation. Five days later, a thick layer of skin sloughed off the
soles of her feet and the palms of her hands.
- Perhaps miraculously, the symptoms then began to subside
and both the woman and her unborn child reportedly survived this ordeal.
In searching for "cause and effect," the case history revealed
that the woman's ordeal was caused by her inadvertent contact with the
bait she was attempting to take away from her dog. The bait contained the
recombinant vaccinia/rabies glycoprotein, which is an oral vaccine intended
to control rabies in raccoons. As the name implies, the bait also carries
vaccinia. Vaccinia is the immunizing agent used in smallpox vaccines. (CDC)
- We in America might assume that the rather disturbing
account described above probably took place "elsewhere" -- that
it must have occurred in a developing nation struggling with a serious
rabies epidemic, and that it is a situation that definitely qualifies as
a NIMBY: a Not In My Back Yard project. We, of course, presume we are certainly
safe from such strange and potentially horrifying contaminations.
- The truth is, however, the above event occurred two years
ago in the northeastern part of Ohio. The description of the woman's infection
and ordeal with vaccinia appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine
in a case report authored in part by CDC's Dr. Charles Rupprecht. (Journal.)
- Although according to the USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection
Service, (APHIS), and the FDA, there has never been a reported human rabies
death directly or indirectly connected to a raccoon, the distribution of
the oral wildlife vaccination for raccoon rabies has been conducted in
the United States since 1990. The first release of the recombinant vaccine
bait occurred on Parramore Island, VA, with other efforts then following
in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Vermont, Ohio, Maryland,
Virginia and Texas. At this time, tens of millions of the baits have been
dropped or otherwise distributed. In an interview with Health Scout News,
Dr. Rupprecht described the recombinant vaccinia-rabies vaccine as being
one of "firsts." It is the first oral vaccine for rabies to be
used in the United States, the first bait ever to be used to control the
disease in raccoons, the first wildlife vaccine used in the United States,
and "it was the first release of a genetically modified organism in
the world." (Health.) According to an October 1995 report prepared
by Tufts University titled, "BioScience," it was also among the
only live "inter-generic" genetically engineered microorganism
to be approved for sale in the United States.
- While the World Health Organization states on their website
that widespread use of vaccinia as a human smallpox protection is not recommended
due to potentially serious complications and that no governments are currently
giving or recommending it for routine use, (W.H.O.), the fact remains that
it has and is being released into the environment via planes, helicopters
and field personnel.
- In the same New England Journal of Medicine article referenced
above, Dr. Rupprecht and others noted that in northeast Ohio alone, from
spring of 1997 to fall of 2000, 3.6 million baits were deployed over an
area of approximately 2500 square miles. The baits were dropped by planes
flying over "uniform grid lines 0.3 miles apart." The baits have
been found in yards, near homes, in public areas such as parks, on sidewalks
and roads, a possible contamination in a cattle feedlot - and dogs attracted
to the aroma of the baits have retrieved them and brought them home.
- We are a nation collectively and figuratively holding
our breath in fear that a first, suspicious outbreak of smallpox might
occur at any time. Many fear that such an event will trigger a government
mandate forcing mass "Vaccinia (Smallpox) Vaccinations" to immunize
people against smallpox. Since we now know that vaccinia infection in humans
can result from contact with the recombinant vaccinia-rabies oral vaccine
bait intended for raccoons, and because there is a nationwide "watch"
for pox-like infections at this time, it is both prudent and well-advised
for those involved in dropping this bait to give ample, appropriate notice
to unsuspecting citizens prior to planned drops, and to issue wide-scale
warnings about possible vaccinia infection from the bait.
- In addition to urging both public and professional awareness
of possible vaccinia risks from the baits, the doctors writing in the Journal
also called for the public to be widely cautioned against handling the
small biscuits falling from the sky, that the public be alerted prior to
each sky-drop, that the public keep their pets indoors after a "drop,"
that they wash their hands carefully and thoroughly following inadvertent
exposure to the baits, and that they contact their physicians for further
- Works Cited
- APHIS. United States EPA. Federal Register Environmental
Documents. 12/10/02 <http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ws/nwrc/research/mammal_diseases/rabies.html>
- CDC. Vaccinia (Smallpox) Vaccine Recommendations of the
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2001. June 22, 2001.
- HealthScoutNews. Sherman, Neil. Wildlife Rabies Vaccine
Infects Woman. August 23, 2001. 12/08/02. <http://www.vaccinationnews.com/DailyNews/August2001/
- Journal. New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 345. No.
8. August 23, 2001. 12/07/02 http://www.wfubmc.edu/ehs/pdf/rabiesvirus.pdf
- W.H.O. World Health Organization. Frequently Asked Questions.
October 26, 2001.12/10/02 <http://www.who.int/emc/diseases/smallpox/faqsmallpox.html>
- Copyright 2002 All Rights Reserved May Not Be Reproduced
Without Written Permission Of Author www.sparrowdancer.com
- Mary Sparrowdancer was a wildlife rehabilitator for eighteen
years, and has cared for over twenty-thousand wild birds and animals, including
endangered species. She is a professional writer and the author of, "The
Love Song of the Universe," published by Hampton Roads. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org