Oral rabies vaccine

A RABORAL-VRG fishmeal-coated sachet, left, and fishmeal-polymer oral rabies vaccination (ORV) baits, with a quarter for perspective.

ABINGDON, Va — Low-flying aircraft were scheduled Tuesday to start dropping bait packets designed to vaccinate Southwest Virginia’s wildlife against rabies, a disease that can spread to both pets and humans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Wildlife Services will distribute oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits – small fishmeal-coated packets containing rabies vaccine – in areas of Southwest Virginia. The ORV baits will be distributed from low-flying aircraft. Targeted wildlife species eat the vaccine baits and become vaccinated for rabies.

The bait distribution is expected to last about a week and will include parts of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Grayson, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and Wythe counties and the cities of Bristol and Abingdon, USDA officials said. Residents in these areas may see low- flying planes and helicopters dropping the ORV baits. More than 500,000 ORV baits will be distributed in Southwest Virginia in October.

A similar program was conducted in “a pretty large swath of West Virginia” this year, Jordona Kirby, rabies field coordinator for USDA Wildlife Services, told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. The drops were conducted in parts of southern West Virginia.

Oral rabies vaccine for raccoons has been dropped in parts of McDowell, Monroe, Raleigh and Summers counties, Kirby said. Vehicles distributing the vaccine packs drove through the cities of Bluefield and Princeton. The vaccine was dropped on all parts of Mercer County.

“We covered those in the last week of August,” Kirby stated.

Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system in mammals. While rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, it also is preventable. Human exposures can be successfully remedied if medical attention is sought immediately following exposure.

Wildlife and health officials are also asking residents to be alert and to report any dead raccoons (including those struck by vehicles) or live raccoons acting unusually ill, friendly and unafraid, or sick (staggering, unsteady or aggressive) to 1-866-4-USDAWS (1-866-487-3297), your local health department or animal control, USDA officials said. Health care professionals or animal control officers will remove the animal or carcass to test it for rabies.

Rabies symptoms include unusual, aggressive or calm and “friendly” behavior, an inability to eat or drink, balance problems, circling, seizures, coma and finally death, USDA officials said. To prevent the spread of rabies, keep domestic pet and livestock vaccinations current and do not contact or feed wildlife. Never move or relocate wildlife, as this may spread rabies to new areas.

Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the vaccine baits, but people who find one should not disturb it. If contact with an ORV bait occurs, immediately rinse the area with warm water and soap. If there has been exposure to the vaccine inside the bait, contact the Virginia Department of Health at 1-877-722-6725. For photos of the vaccine baits and other aspects of the ORV project, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/sets/72157623983143606/

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

Recommended for you