Come the first two weeks of October, if you're out hiking in the woods, don't be surprised if a helicopter or plane flies overhead and starts to drop what appears to be little dirty-looking packets of candy from the air. It's not for you. Don't eat it.
What you'll be seeing is oral rabies vaccinations (ORVs) aimed at the raccoon strain of rabies. Over the course of two weeks, the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, working with state and local agencies, will be dropping around 176,000 ORVs in Catoosa, Walker, Dade, Whitfield counties and a small portion of Murray County, an area of 1,274 square miles.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To learn more about rabies management in the U.S., visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/programs/nrmp/ct_national_rabies_management_program_overview.
The campaign is part of a larger operation that will drop 9.5 million ORVs starting in Northwest Maine where it borders New Brunswick, Canada, then heading west and hitting a chunk of Northern Vermont, then a portion of the New York-Canada border and another large bit of New York around Buffalo, cutting down the entire western border of Pennsylvania, through West Virginia and the western leg of Virginia, encompassing northwest Tennessee, skipping just a little and hitting Hamilton County then northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama and ending just shy of Birmingham.
This path is what the USDA/APHIS considers the western border — the barrier to raccoon-variety rabies spreading any farther west, says USDA wildlife biologist Daymond Hughes. It also covers a small part of the U.S. northern border with Canada.
Hughes, who specializes in rabies, says the campaign to keep rabies from spreading west has been going on for a number of years and is yielding results. "There was one confirmed rabies case in Hamilton County last year," he says, "and one in Dade County in 2015."
Hughes says there have been no confirmed cases of rabies in Catoosa or Walker counties since at least 2015 when he started working the area.
Raccoon-variety rabies is being targeted, says Hughes, because that's the animal most likely to carry rabies in the southeast region.
The rabies vaccine drop in Northwest Georgia, says Hughes, will begin with helicopters, which will be dropping over Chickamauga Battlefield, among other places. Later drops will be by fixed-wing aircraft.
Hughes says that while the ORV program is vital to eliminating the threat of rabies, there are many myths that surround animals that can carry the disease. "People think that because a raccoon or skunk is out in the daytime, it must have rabies, but nocturnal animals come out during the day for many reasons."
Hughes says a nocturnal animal out during the day can be simply moving around or looking for food. If the animal is acting odd, it may have distemper or some other ailment. A scrappy-looking raccoon can have mange.
In 2017, as reported by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, there were 253 confirmed cases of rabies in Georgia. There were none in Catoosa, Walker, Dade, Whitfield or Murray counties. There were 35 confirmed cases of rabies in Tennessee in 2017. One was in Hamilton County.
Of the thousands of animals tested for rabies each year in the U.S., only a small percent test positive. In Georgia, which had the second highest rate (after Arizona) of positive tests in 2017, 14.1% tested positive. In Tennessee, 2% of the animals tested were positive and in Alabama it was 2.4%.
The USDA/APHIS recommends that if someone finds an ORV, they don gloves or some kind of hand protection and toss the packet into a wooded area where raccoons might find it. They should then wash their hands thoroughly.
Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.
We shared the story of "Baby D" — Di'Laine Marie — back in February when she was 8 months old. Baby D was born with Gaucher (goshay) Disease, Type II. Doctors told her mother, Kelsie Smith of Catoosa County, to take her home, put her on hospice and let go. They said Di'Laine was blind, deaf and hopelessly ill with an enzyme deficiency that would quickly result in fatal brain and organ damage.
Baby D celebrated her first birthday in July and is now working on her second year. She is neither blind nor deaf and she has weathered her treatments like a real trooper.
To be sure, Baby D faces daily health challenges, says Smith. "We spend a lot of time running to doctor appointments." There have been scares and Baby D sees the inside of a hospital in a month more often than most people do in a lifetime, but she's pulled through each time.
In between medical appointments, Baby D grins when her grandmother teases her and threatens to steal her pacifier, loves to have someone pat her mouth while she makes noises to create sound effects, and has a good repertoire of baby talk. She's a happy little girl with an adorable smile and a delightful personality.
Smith and her family and other supporters make the most of every well moment Baby D has — a trip to the ocean, a cookout at Chester Frost Park, a Walmart adventure with one of Bady D's nurses.
The next big step for little Di'Laine is a trip to Fairfax, Virginia, in November, where her regular specialist and other doctors from around the world will spend almost a week observing and examining her and other children with Gaucher Disease in an effort to learn more and come up with better treatments.
The trip is not covered by insurance, says Smith, so a benefit is being held to raise money for travel and medical expenses. The public is invited to attend, enjoy and help Baby D.
PRO WRESTLING BENEFIT SHOW TO BENEFIT BABY D
When: Oct. 5, 2019, 2-4 p.m.
Where: Harry Griffin Park, 210 G. Vaughn Parkway, Tunnel Hill, Ga.
What: Wrestlers Ryan Andrews, Aaron G, Ryan Watkins, Kevin Seiber, Daisy Mae and others; food, raffles, fun
Cost: Adults $6; children 6 and up $5; children 5 and under free. Children eat free. Tickets can be purchased at the event or in advance at Tunnel Hill Pharmacy, 3535 Chattanooga Road, Tunnel Hill.
More info: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1797960956965965