Beginning Oct. 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services started distributing oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits - small fishmeal-coated packets containing rabies vaccine -- in portions of southwestern Virginia. The ORV baits will be distributed from low-flying aircraft. Targeted wildlife species eat the vaccine baits and become vaccinated against rabies.

The bait distribution is expected to last approximately one week and will occur in parts of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Giles, Grayson, Scott, Smyth, Russell, Washington, Wise, Wythe and Tazewell counties and the cities of Bristol and Abingdon. Residents in these areas may see low-flying planes and helicopters dropping the ORV baits. More than 700,000 ORV baits will be distributed in Southwest Virginia in October.

Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the vaccine baits; however, if you or your pet find one, leave it undisturbed. 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. 

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. Officials 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. 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.

The cost of rabies detection, prevention and control exceeds $600 million annually in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the U.S. are in wildlife.

As part of the Wildlife Services’ National Rabies Management Program, ORV baits have been distributed in Virginia since 2002, as part of a larger effort to prevent the westward spread of raccoon rabies by creating a barrier along the Appalachian Mountains from the Canadian border to Alabama.

For more information about the National Rabies Management Program, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/programs/nrmp

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