Taking flight to fight rabies on the ground - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Taking flight to fight rabies on the ground

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"To get up in an airplane flying over three states in a day, it's pretty neat," says Justin Reynoldss.

He's is a rabies biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Reynolds is based in Georgia and took to the air Thursday to fight rabies on the ground.

"We're flying King Air aircraft at about 500 feet," says Reynolds, contracted through Dynamic Aviation. "We're spreading bait across the northwest corner of the state."

A few spots in northeast Alabama and near Chattanooga are targets, too.

The focus is to control the spread of rabies among the wildlife, especially raccoons.

USDA Rabies Field Coordinator Jordona Kirby says the project started in 1995 across many eastern states and in Georgia in 2003.

"In the eastern U.S. where we have huge numbers of of raccoons living in close proximity to people, we do see the highest numbers of cases in the US every year," explains Kirby.

Every fall for a week or so several planes drop more than 1.5 million of the oral rabies vaccines--or ORVs--across the region. They look like restaurant mustard packets, and while they might not sound appetizing to you or me, the critters gobble them up.

"They are coated in a highly attractive fish oil and fish crumbles," says Kirby. "So raccoons and other wildlife find them to be very tasty and edible."

After biting into the packets they become vaccinated upon swallowing the vaccine inside. They are not harmed.

Kirby says the program has been very successful, greatly reducing the number of cases in northwest Georgia in recent years, with no cases found in Chattanooga since 2008. But her office covers a 14-state region so it'll take a long time before the rabies might disappear altogether.

"Twenty-five to 40 years," states Kirby. "Managing for a disease like rabies is very complicated."

They have to take it one step at a time.

"In six weeks we'll do post-bait trapping," says Reynold. "We'll go around and catch raccoons from inside the bait zone and then test them to see if they've been vaccinated."

If you find one or more of these packets on your property, Kirby says to move it to a wooded area or brush pile away from your home and out of the reach of children and pets. Use a paper towel or wear gloves.

They won't do permanent damage to cats and dogs, but they could cause stomach problems for a while.

If your skin is exposed to the pink vaccine liquid, wash your hands immediately with soap and water and call your local health department or the phone number on the back of the packet.

For more information about the vaccine and its manufacturer, visit this web site .

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