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Tufts Expands Fight Against Rabies

Tufts Expands Fight Against RabiesUniversity continues to expand "rabies-free" zone in Mass., adding six more towns to most effective rabies barrier program in the U.S. Cape Cod, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.03.01] Since Massachusetts was first hit with the raccoon rabies epidemic almost a decade ago, over 3,200 wild and domestic animals have tested positive for the deadly disease. But Tufts veterinarians have been working with state and federal health officials to create and expand a "rabies-free" zone to protect the population of the Bay State, battling the disease with one of the most effective rabies vaccination programs in the country.

This week, a team led by veterinarians from Tufts' School of Veterinary Medicine have been distributing over 72,500 baits laced with rabies vaccine in towns across Cape Cod.

The most successful initiative of its kind in the country, the Tufts bait drop program has created a solid barrier against rabies around all of the participating towns.

"We've prevented rabies from spreading to Cape Cod for the entire eight years of our program," Tufts' Dr. Alison Robbins told the Associated Press.

Mainly spread by raccoons, "the disease is always fatal in people who begin to exhibit symptoms," reported the international news service.

The results have promoted officials from nine states in the U.S. and three other countries to contact Tufts about creating similar programs around the world.

And in Massachusetts, the program's effectiveness has led Tufts veterinarians to expand the battle against rabies in that state even further.

"We're going to extend the fight to new communities so we can keep Cape Cod rabies-free," Robbins told the Boston Herald.

To do that, Tufts is expanding the coverage zone by 30 percent this fall, bringing the size of the vaccine distribution area to nearly 300 square miles, Robbins said.

According to the Herald, "Testing programs indicate that 60 percent of raccoons trapped in the area where bait has been spread are immune to rabies." The Tufts program also vaccinates other wild animals including fox and coyotes against the disease.

Praising the impact the Tufts program has already had, one Massachusetts newspaper printed an editorial calling for the program to be expanded to include the entire state.

"It would seem to hold promise for wiping out rabies in a way similar to the elimination of smallpox and polio through universal vaccination programs," wrote the editors of The Sun Chronicle.

The results have also earned the praise of Massachusetts Senator Therese Murray (D-Plymouth).

"I commend Tufts, along with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, for designing the most successful rabies vaccination program in the nation," Murray said. "It has prevented the spread of rabies to Cape Cod and reduced rabies in the baited areas. As a sponsor of the program, I anticipate it will be even more effective once we expand the vaccine zone."

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