KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Department of Health is working to control the spread of rabies within raccoons. They have teamed up with the United States Department of Agriculture to distribute an oral rabies vaccine for wild raccoons.

Rabies infects the central nervous system and ultimately causes inflammation of the brain and death. The disease is rare in humans, with only 1 to 3 cases reported a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of Rabis cases are found in wild animals according to the CDC. This does not mean it does not impact humans, the CDC says that between 30,000 to 60,000 people need to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis each year.

Bats are the most frequently reported rabid wild species followed by raccoons, skunks and foxes. Raccoons with rabies have been found in the South and Eastern states especially along Tennessee’s border with Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. This is where the TDH and the USDA are focusing their vaccine distribution.

(Map via CDC)

The vaccines will be distributed through sachet baits coated in an oily, fish-scented substance to attract a raccoon. The bait can then be found by animals who will bait into it and swallow the vaccine. The animal will then develop immunity to rabies. According to the TDH, as the number of vaccinated animals increase, they will become a buffer to stop the spread to other wildlife, domestic animals and people.

(Image via georgia department of agriculture)

Low-flying airplanes and helicopters will drop the baits in 17 Tennessee counties. The bait drop will take place between October 1 -15:

The USDA Wildlife Services program has issued some precautions for those who come in contact with the baits:

  • If you or your pet finds a vaccine bait package, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel and toss baits into a wooded or fencerow area.
    • Do not try to remove an oral rabies vaccine packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
  • These baits should be removed from where your pet could easily eat them.
    • Eating the baits won’t harm your pet, but consuming several baits might upset your pet’s stomach.
  • Wear gloves or use a towel when you pick up the bait. While there is no harm in touching undamaged baits, they have a strong fishmeal smell.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if there is any chance the vaccine packet has been ruptured.
  • Instruct children to leave baits alone.

Each bait is marked with a toll-free number (1-877-722-6725) for people to call for assistance or information if they find or come in contact with a bait.

The oral vaccines have been used in the US since 1990, in Canada since 1985 and in Europe since 1980. According to the USDA, 16 states use the vaccine. The baits used in the US right now have been made by Merial, Inc.