The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its partnering agencies, including Catoosa County Animal Control, are working to stop the spread of racoon rabies in the region by dispersing oral rabies vaccination (ORV) baits by air.

Beginning Friday, Oct. 9, helicopters will crisscross the skies over Catoosa County to disperse about 120,000 coated sachet baits in the urban and suburban areas. On Oct. 12, fixed-wing aircraft will begin dispersing an additional 270,000 coated sachet baits in rural areas. Operations are expected to be completed the following week, weather permitting.

“If Catoosa County residents find an ORV bait, please leave it alone unless it is on your lawn, driveway or other areas not likely to attract raccoons,” said USDA rabies biologist Daymond Hughes. “If you want to move an ORV bait, wear gloves or use other protective covering like paper towels or plastic bags and relocate them to an area of thicker ground cover where raccoons are more likely to find it.”

The USDA recommends people wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water if they handle ORV baits without wearing gloves or other protection. Damaged or partially eaten ORV baits should be placed in a bag and disposed of with normal trash. Do not try to remove an ORV bait from a pet’s mouth since that may cause an animal to bite.

“The vaccine in these baits cannot cause rabies and has been shown to be safe in more than 60 species of animals, including cats and dogs,” Hughes said.

The aerial operation in Catoosa County is part of a wider, regional dispersion of ORV baits in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Partnering agencies include the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, along with the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The target area covers more than 1,270 square miles including all of Catoosa and Dade counties and large portions of Chattooga, Walker and Whitfield counties.

Catoosa County Animal Control continues its years-long relationship with the USDA to test wild animals, especially raccoons, for rabies and other diseases.

“When citizens bring raccoons to Animal Control that have been trapped, injured or deceased, we hold them until USDA biologists can take them for testing,” said Catoosa County Animal Control Director Sheree Horton. “If a non-exposure wildlife animal tests positive for rabies, USDA will inform Animal Control and either myself or our senior officer will follow up with the citizen.”

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