KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Department of Health has joined forces with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to combat the spread of rabies. Starting this October, the department will be dispersing rabies vaccine packets from the air along Tennessee’s borders with North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama.

“Rabies control keeps people, pets, and livestock safe,” State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD said. “Our partnership with USDA Wildlife Services in this project reduces rabies in wildlife and protects communities.”

The vaccines will be distributed through sachet baits coated in an oily, fish-scented substance. The baits can be found by animals and then swallowed, leading to the development of immunity to rabies. As the number of vaccinated animals increases, they will become a buffer to stop the spread to other wildlife, pets, and people. Low-flying airplanes and helicopters will drop the baits over three weeks in Tennessee.

Below you can see the schedule for the drops:

Helicopter Distribution (urban areas)

  • Oct. 4 to Oct. 9: Hamilton and Bradley counties
  • Oct. 10 to Oct. 12: Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Carter, Unicoi, and Washington counties

Aircraft Distribution (rural areas)

  • Oct, 3 to Oct.9: Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie counties
  • Oct.9 to Oct. 14: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties

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 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

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

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.