Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 15, 2013

Rabies drop set for Mercer

BLUEFIELD — It’s time for West Virginia’s raccoons to see their annual dose of rabies vaccine fall from the sky.

In Mercer County, fish meal baits containing an oral raccoon rabies vaccine will be distributed in the county’s wooded northern areas, said Doris Irwin, RN, BSW, with the Mercer County Health Department. The bait drop program was created to control the spread of raccoon rabies, a major source of rabies in West Virginia.

“To give you an idea where this might be, it’s up on Coaldale Mountain, Windmill Gap, Arista Mountain, the Camp Creek area, and up on the upper part of Route 19 where it hits the border with Raleigh County,” Irwin said Wednesday. “It’s very unlikely anybody would run into these baits because it’s a pretty remote area. They don’t drop them in over a populated area. It will not be in a place like Bramwell, Matoaka, anywhere like that. It will not be over the rural communities.”

The bait drop includes all of McDowell County, Irwin said.

Baiting with block-type baits distributed in more urban areas by hand is scheduled to begin Aug. 26. Irwin did not know if any baiting by hand would take place in Mercer or McDowell counties.

Aerial baiting could begin Aug. 28 and conclude in early to mid-September, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said. Inclement weather could extend the program.

Baits dropped by air look like ketchup packets with an exterior coating of a fine-brown colored fish meal coating. The block-type bait has a hard, brown-colored fish polymer shell that resembles a fig cookie, according to USDA officials.

“They’re basically very benign,” Irwin said. “The raccoons really like them. Skunks will eat them occasionally, and they’re harmless to your dog. We don’t really want dogs to eat them because they’re really not approved for dogs.”

Feeding the baits to a dog or cat will not immunize them against rabies, Irwin added. Owners can protect their pets having a veterinarian immunize them.

Children should be told to leave baits alone if they are found. If a pet gets a bait, do not try to take it away because this could result in a bite.

If a person is exposed to the actual vaccine, which is a red or purple liquid, wash with soap and water any areas of the skin that have come into contact with it, USDA officials said. Then contact your local health department or the telephone number on the bait packet.

“The only reason there’s any precaution on this is because we like to be extra-cautious,” Irwin said. “It’s just a vaccine in it. For someone with several immune-compromised conditions like HIV, it could be a problem. It doesn’t have any active rabies culture at all, so people really don’t have to worry about it; but we don’t want people gathering them up and not letting the raccoons eat them.”

Mercer County has had three rabid raccoon cases this year: two were in the Bluefield area and one was near Princeton in the Mount Horeb area, Irwin said.

Three years ago, Mercer County “got the prize” for the most raccoon rabies cases in the state when 14 were reported, she added.

“So get those puppies and kitties vaccinated, and don’t feed wildlife,” Irwin advised. “Don’t feed raccoons and don’t feed your pet outside. Make sure your garbage is secure, and secure your pet doors. Raccoons can come in through those.”

Raccoons, healthy or rabid, will come close to people once they’ve been fed.

“They will come quite close, but you could still get bitten. It’s not a good idea,” she said.

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