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PARIS TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Federal agriculture officials plan to distribute rabies vaccine baits over parts of three Northeast Ohio counties next week to prevent the spread of the virus.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will use planes and helicopters to air drop the oral rabies vaccine baits over parts of Stark, Carroll and Columbiana counties. The baits are coated to attract raccoons, foxes and coyotes, and they are about the size of a matchbox.

The move comes after two raccoons found near Paris Township in Stark County earlier this year tested positive for rabies, a potentially deadly virus that is spread through saliva.

“It’s pretty much a daily occurrence to see raccoons,” said Sylvia Mast, who owns the Hidden Valley Lake Retreat campground with her husband, who said she was surprised to hear about the rabies cases. “We are concerned.”

Stark County Director of Environmental Health Paul DePasquale said the cases are the first among raccoons in the county.

To further reduce the spread of rabies, he encouraged residents to take preventive measures such as teaching kids to stay away from wildlife, vaccinating pets and bringing pet food indoors, and securing trash with lids.

“You don’t know which raccoon is going to have what,” DePasquale said. “If you take these precautions, then you protect your pets, and then in the end you protect human life.”

Health officials said anyone who finds the baits should leave them alone unless they are in an area where children or pets play. In that case, use gloves to move them to a wooded area and wash with soap and water after coming into contact with the baits.

While the baits are not harmful to pets, said eating a large number may cause an upset stomach. If you think your pet has eaten them, officials recommend you contact a veterinarian.