NORTH LIMA, Ohio -- Thousands of baits containing an oral rabies vaccine are raining down on parts of Northeast Ohio this week.
Crews from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are flying a helicopter and airplane in and out of Youngstown Elser Metro Airport to try to keep the dangerous virus from spreading further west.
They’re spreading dropping more than 150,000 baits over 539 square miles in portions of Stark, Carroll and Columbiana Counties.
It comes after two raccoons tested positive for rabies in Stark County this year, for the first time ever.
The baits attract the animals and vaccinate them when eaten, reaching about half of the raccoon population and ultimately reducing the chances pets or humans will contract the deadly virus, according to USDA Logistics Planner Robert Hale.
“We're trying to eliminate the raccoon variant rabies in the U.S.,” Hale said. “By vaccinating the rest of the animals right now, we're developing a herd immunity, so hopefully raccoon variant rabies won't be spreading.”
The crews are dropping the baits from an altitude of about 500 feet, using a helicopter in congested areas and plane in more open areas, according to Hale. He said they’re moving from west to east throughout the week, targeting places where raccoons live.
“Good raccoon habit can be the dumpsters behind restaurants, so we're looking for places raccoons are going to be,” he said.
USDA officials said the baits are safe but can cause a stomach ache in pets if several are consumed.
“It will not harm any domestic pet. It has been tested on them,” Hale said. “Humans, we ask if someone comes in contact with a bait that they wash their hands with soap and water and basically leave it alone.”
After dropping the baits, crews will continue to monitor the area for rabies. They plan to return to do additional baiting in late summer, Hale said.
Officials remind everyone to have pets vaccinated for rabies and to take steps, such as keeping trash secured, to keep raccoons away.