A nationwide program to control the spread of rabies takes off for the first time in the river region.
Officials say it’s been about ten years since the last time they treated wildlife for this dangerous disease but this time they're starting from up above to solve the problem.
Officials are taking to the air to stop a rabies problem on the ground.
United States Department of Agriculture officials are dropping small white packets filled with rabies vaccine from a helicopter across parts of Elmore and Autauga counties. USDA official Jordana Kirby says the packets are covered in fish meal crumbles which attract raccoons and other wildlife.
Jordona, Kirby, Rabies Control Coordinator, USDA, says “Once a raccoon or other wild animal bites into the packet and the vaccine gets into their throat basically it works just like a vaccine would in a person in that it tricks the body into creating an immune response so that an animal will actually develop antibodies to fight against rabies and protect them from getting rabies.”
Authorities are concerned about the virus because they’ve found seven cases of rabies in the area in 2011.
Dee Jones, State Public Health Veterinarian, says the vaccine drop is a part of an effort to keep the virus from spreading west of the Coosa and Alabama River systems.
Dee Jones, State Public Health Veterinarian, says “Normally we would expect to see those kinds of numbers in certain areas of the state but on the north and west side of the river, Alabama River if you will, it’s not normal to see that high of a positive frequency of rabies.
Over the next couple of days, officials will be distributing around 81,000 vaccine packets over a 400 square mile area. After about four to six weeks they will come back to see how effective the vaccination process was.
“We will collect samples from some of the raccoons in the trapped areas and from a blood sample that we take from each of these raccoons we’re able to determine whether they’ve been vaccinated,” said Kirby.
If you or your pet come in contact with the bait and have a reaction, there is an 800 number printed on it that you can call for help. Officials say people should be careful if they come across one of the packets.
“If someone was to encounter a bait the best thing to do is pick up that bait with a towel or disposable gloves and just move the bait away from the area where a pet or child could come in contact with the bait,” said Kirby.
Officials are hoping the packet drop, which has been successful in other parts of the country, will be just as effective here in the river region.
Pet owners should make sure pets are vaccinated for rabies.
To report dead raccoons, foxes, bobcats or coyotes or to report a sick animal, call 888-RABIES4.