Tuesday, Aug. 20 is the first day of scheduled rabies vaccine airdrops at numerous locations in Erie and Niagara Counties. Bait laced with the vaccine will be dropped in areas where wild animals known to carry rabies may be lurking. Erie County is also planning three rabies vaccine clinics next month to protect pets from the fatal virus.
The first airdrops will be over rural portions, carried out by fixed-wing aircraft. The vaccine bait pieces measure about one inch by one and a half inches and, according to Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein, look like a pill packet.
Such pieces of bait will be distributed from August 20 until August 29. Following the fixed-wing drops, helicopters will focus on suburban spaces while bait for wild animals living in urban settings will be distributed by hand.
Burstein says though the bait will not harm a pet, it's best to leave the pieces alone.
"If your pet, your dog, comes into contact and maybe even ingests it, it will not be harmful to your animal. If humans find one and pick it up, say a child, they should put it back and then wash your hands," the commissioner said.
According to the Erie County Health Department, 13 cases of rabies have been confirmed so far this year. Health officials say there are more out there presumed to be carrying the virus.
"Bats are number one and then we see a variety of raccoons, skunk, fox," Burstein said. "Some years we've had some odd animals like cattle or sometimes cats. It's really important that we try to get the rabies vaccine into as much wildlife as possible."
Rabies is a fatal disease. Humans who may be exposed to rabies are urged to receive post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent the virus from going through its incubation phase. Pets exposed to the virus, according to Burstein, are unfortunately doomed. By the time the symptoms finally show up, it will already be too late.
"They wouldn't look quite right. They may not want to eat. They may vomit. They may just appear ill," she said. "Then their behavior may change. A dog or a cat that is usually friendly may become aggressive and bite you or scratch you. Then they may become very drowsy and fatigued."
While health officials conduct vaccine bait airdrops for the next several days, Erie County is preparing to host three rabies vaccination clinics in the month of September, beginning in the afternoon of Wednesday, September 11 at Erie Community College's South Campus. The following Wednesday, September 18, a clinic will be held at ECC North, and then the following Wednesday a clinic will be held at the Town of Cheektowaga's Highway Garage on Union Road.
The clinics are free to the public. Commissioner Burstein encourages owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to get their pets vaccinated. Humans at risk of rabies exposure are also encouraged to be vaccinated.