JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Neighbors in Alabama may notice oral rabies vaccine baits being thrown from an aircraft or by ground during the next two weeks as part of a large federal operation.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), close to 1 million small bait packs will be distributed across Alabama.
“The baits are about the size of a matchbox and they are covered in a smelly fish-meal coating in order to attract the wildlife to consume it,” said Marianne Hudson with Outdoor Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.
Hudson explained the project aims to help prevent rabies in animals like raccoons. There have been nine raccoons and a fox that have tested positive for the virus in the last three years.
“It occurs throughout the county, primarily where we have seen most of the cases have been Homewood, Mountain Brook, Irondale areas. We know that the cases are there the goal is to try to control the spread,” Jefferson County Environmental Health Program Manager Jeff Swinney said.
Swinney said the area had seen success under the federal program in years past and wants to see it succeed.
“Starting about 4 years ago, the numbers started, positive cases began to increases so now the USDA has us back in their program,” Swinney said.
Drops will take place over the next two weeks or so in Bibb, Cherokee, De Kalb, Etowah, Jackson, Jefferson, Marshall, Shelby, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa Counties.
“When the animals ingest the bait, the immune system is tricked into thinking they’ve been exposed to the virus and it helps provide them some immunity against the virus,” Hudson said.
On the ground, Hudson said vehicles will be slower moving and should be recognizable.
“They’re going to have government plates, lights flashing, and they’re going to be dropping baits in areas where people are hopefully not going to encounter them but raccoons area,” she said.
While officials hope that bait packets are dropped away from humans and pets, Hudson is cautioning neighbors to stay away.
“If your pet ingests one of these baits, it can cause stomach upset but typically no long term issues. If you are in contact with one of these baits, make sure you wear a glove and if it touches your skin, if the fluid inside touches your skin, wash your hands thoroughly and call your county health department,” she said.
Wildlife leaders remind neighbors not to touch any animal that is alone or acting strange. Neighbors can also help control the spread of rabies by having pets vaccinated.
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