MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Starting Friday, residents of 24 counties in West Virginia, especially those with outdoor pets, should be on the lookout for rabies vaccine baits that will be dropped from planes and helicopters this month.

The goal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bait drop is that raccoons and other wildlife will consume them, become immunized, and prevent the spread of rabies.

“If you find a bait, leave it where you found it unless it’s in your lawn or driveway,” said Todd Powroznik, Environmental Health program manager at Monongalia County Health Department. “If you do find any in those places, wear gloves and remove the baits, and put them in a thicker area where raccoons and wild animals will find them.”

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will be distributing oral rabies vaccine (ORV) baits from airplanes, helicopters and cars around Aug. 5 and 8 and Aug. 24 and 31. These drops will be in several states in the Eastern U.S. and in the following counties in West Virginia:

  • Barbour
  • Brooke
  • Doddridge
  • Greenbrier
  • Fayette
  • Hancock
  • Harrison
  • Lewis
  • Marion
  • Marshall
  • McDowell
  • Mercer
  • Monongalia
  • Nicholas
  • Ohio
  • Pocahontas
  • Raleigh
  • Randolph
  • Summers
  • Taylor
  • Tyler
  • Upshur
  • Webster
  • Wetzel
  • Wyoming

While the intent of the vaccines is to protect pets and people from rabies, according to a release from the Monongalia County Health Department, the vaccine baits can be harmful to pets in large doses. Of the three types of baits that will be distributed, some contain fishmeal to attract the wildlife, which dogs also might find appetizing. The Monongalia County Health Department said that they are not toxic or harmful, but that not a good idea for a dog to ingest many of them.

“Eating a large number might cause an upset stomach in your pet,” Powroznik said.

Dog owners are encouraged to inspect their yards periodically during August to see if any of the baits have been dropped in their area.

“Just police the area, especially if you have a large yard next to big fields or a wooded area,” Powroznik said.
Luckily, studies have shown that most of the baits reach their intended recipients – raccoons and other wildlife – within four days. “They are all almost gone within a week,” Powroznik said.

How to recognize the vaccines

There will be three types of vaccines dropped. One is wrapped in a green blister pack, one in a white blister pack, and the other is encased in a brown coating.

And there will likely be a good amount of them; according to the Monongalia County Health Department, more than 1,400 vaccines were distributed in Morgantown alone in 2021.

ORV Baits (Courtesy: Monongalia County Health Department)

According to the health department, Monongalia County experienced an especially high number of positive rabies cases in 2019. “Some of these came from cases in which a dog in a backyard encountered a rabid raccoon,” said the release from the health department. “In this situation, if a dog has not been vaccinated for rabies and is bitten or scratched by a rabid animal, euthanasia is usually the course of action.”

The number of confirmed cases has declined in Monongalia County. “They keep moving the line back to the east and it’s helping tremendously by vaccinating the wild animals,” Powroznik said.

While the planned dates for the vaccine distributions are Aug. 5 to 8 and Aug. 24 to 31, the health department said that these exact dates could change due to weather.