Biologists to distribute oral rabies vaccine baits for wildlife in parts of Virginia

Photo courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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ABINGDON, Va. (WDBJ7) — On Wednesday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services will begin to distribute oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits in areas of southwest Virginia.

ORV baits are small, fishmeal-coated packets containing the rabies vaccine that are intended for certain wildlife species. The animals eat the baits and become vaccinated for rabies.

The baits will be dropped by low-flying planes and helicopters, and the distribution period is expected to last approximately one week.

More than 700,000 baits will be distributed throughout southwest Virginia in parts of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise and Wythe counties, as well as in the cities of Abingdon and Bristol.

The USDA says humans and pets cannot contract rabies from the vaccine baits, but they should be left alone if found. If contact with an ORV bait occurs, rinse the area with warm water and soap. If you are exposed to the vaccine inside, contact the Virginia Department of Health at 1-877-722-6725.

For pictures of the ORV baits and projects, click here.

As a reminder, rabies is caused by a virus that infects the central nervous system in mammals. According to the USDA, once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal; however, people who seek medical attention immediately after exposure can be successfully treated.

In addition, wildlife and health personnel ask residents to be alert and report any dead raccoons they see, as well as living ones that are acting unusual. Symptoms include unusual, aggressive or calm and friendly behaviors, an inability to eat or drink, balance issues, circling, seizures, coma and eventually death. Reports can be made to 1-866-487-3297, your local health department or animal control.

The USDA says over $600 million is spent annually on the detection, prevention and control of rabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the U.S. are in wildlife. To prevent spread of the disease, keep pet and livestock vaccination current, and do not interact with, feed or relocate wildlife.

ORV baits have been distributed in Virginia since 2002 through the Wildlife Services' National Rabies Management Program in an effort to prevent westward spread of raccoon rabies.

For information on the program, visit the USDA website.