Beginning May 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, working with the Virginia and Kentucky Departments of Health, will distribute oral rabies vaccine, referred to as ORV, baits — small, fishmeal-coated packets containing rabies vaccine — in areas of southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

The ORV baits will be distributed from low-flying aircraft. Targeted wildlife species eat the vaccine baits and become vaccinated for rabies.

The week-long distribution will occur in Lee, Scott and Wise counties in Virginia and Letcher and Harlan counties in Kentucky. Residents of Appalachia, Big Stone Gap, Dryden, Duffield, Norton and Wise (in Virginia) and Cumberland and Whitesburg (in Kentucky) and those traveling through those areas may see low- flying planes and helicopters dropping the ORV baits.

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.

Humans and pets cannot get rabies from contact with the vaccine baits; however, if you or your pet find one, please leave it undisturbed. If contact with an ORV bait occurs, immediately rinse the area with warm water and soap. To learn more about the vaccine baits and other aspects of the ORV project, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/sets/72157623983143606/

During spring of 2017, two raccoons in Wise County near Big Stone Gap were confirmed rabid. These were the first confirmed cases of raccoon rabies in Wise County and the farthest west that raccoon rabies has been confirmed in Virginia. The upcoming bait distribution campaign represents the third consecutive year of ORV in the area.

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.

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 United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90 percent of reported rabies cases in the United States 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.

More than 350,000 ORV baits will be distributed in southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky this spring, with an additional, larger-scale program taking place in October.

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

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