Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) suffer high rates of mortality from plague. An oral sylvatic plague vaccine using the raccoon poxvirus vector (designated RCN-F1/V307) has been developed for prairie dogs. This vaccine is incorporated into palatable bait along with rhodamine B as a biomarker. We conducted trials in August and September 2012 to demonstrate uptake and apparent safety of the RCN-F1/V307 vaccine in two prairie dog species under field conditions. Free-ranging prairie dogs and other associated small rodents readily consumed vaccine-laden baits during field trials with no apparent adverse effects; most sampled prairie dogs (90%) and associated small rodents (78%) had consumed baits. Visual counts of prairie dogs and their burrows revealed no evidence of prairie dog decline after vaccine exposure. No vaccine-related morbidity, mortality, or gross or microscopic lesions were observed. Poxviruses were not isolated from any animal sampled prior to bait distribution or on sites that received placebo baits. We isolated RCN-F1/V307 from 17 prairie dogs and two deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) captured on sites where vaccine-laden baits were distributed. Based on these findings, studies examining the utility and effectiveness of oral vaccination to prevent plague-induced mortality in prairie dogs and associated species are underway.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2