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Rabies prevention blitz takes to the skies

Erie County Health Department

Crews have started airdropping rabies vaccine baits throughout rural areas of Erie County as part of a broader initiative to reduce rabies in animals along the Eastern Seaboard and along the Canadian Border.

Five fixed-wing aircraft are distributing baits through August 20. Additional distribution efforts in late August and early September in some open areas of Buffalo and in nearby towns and villages.

Peter Tripi, senior public health sanitarian with the Erie County Department of Health, told WBFO this is the height of the season when animals that have rabies can come into contact with humans and pets.

“Our program alone will put out between 10,000 and 15,000 [baits] just in our small group in the city of Buffalo, and a couple of the adjoining towns and villages where the helicopter can’t get in,” Tripi said. “This is an extremely effective program, the USDA has been doing it for a long time in cooperation with Cornell University.”

Tripi said some strides have been made in dealing with the problem.

“We are actually on the lower end of the raccoon rabies this year. But last year we had more raccoon rabies and bat rabies than we do so far this year. So it’s still a concern, obviously, because we are only testing the ones that come in contact with humans and their pets.”

Credit Erie County Health Department

The baits are only about two inches long and can easily be blown off targeted areas by wind. Experts said homeowners should be aware that baits could land on their properties. They encourage parents to supervise children’s outdoor activities during the bait distribution and for a week after the distribution.

What if someone finds a bait?

“What you should do is pick them up with gloves and throw them back into the wooded areas,” Tripi said.  “Obviously, if we could put them back where the habitat potentially could be, it would be great.”

Tripi added that property owners who find baits can also carefully dispose of them in garbage cans.

People who come into contact with baits should wash their hands immediately and call the New York State Rabies Information Line at 1-888-574-6656. The phone number located on the back of the baits

If a pet comes into direct contact with a bait and bites into it, experts advise people to contact a veterinarian. While the baits are not harmful to domestic animals, consumption of several baits could cause vomiting.

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