People living in Mahoning, Columbiana and several other Ohio counties could see helicopters or other aircraft flying low beginning this week.

The United States Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Dept. of Health on Monday will begin distributing oral rabies vaccine to immunize wild raccoons.

Baiting will occur in Carroll. Columbiana, Harrison, Mahoning, Stark, and Tuscarawas counties.

In 1996, a new strain of rabies in wild raccoons was introduced into northeastern Ohio from Pennsylvania.

To protect Ohioans and their domestic animals, the Ohio Department of Health and other state and local agencies partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services to implement a program to immunize wild raccoons for rabies using an oral rabies vaccine.

This effort created a barrier of immune animals that reduced animal cases and prevented the spread of raccoon rabies into the rest of Ohio. The vaccine-laden baits are dropped by fixed wing aircraft or a low-flying helicopter in rural areas or distributed by hand and from vehicles in urban neighborhoods.

Aerial baiting in rural areas should take five days by airplane, weather permitting. Helicopter distribution of baits in urban and suburban neighborhoods is expected to take two to three days, but may be extended depending on weather conditions.

Approximately 330,300 vaccine-laden baits will be distributed by airplane and helicopter, covering about 3,234 km2.

The vaccine is enclosed in a polyvinyl chloride blister pack, which is coated with a sweet attractant containing vegetable-based fats, wax, icing sugar, vegetable oil, artificial marshmallow flavor and dark-green food dye.

Although placement is targeted to raccoon habitat, it is inevitable that some baits may end up in a yard or be found by a pet or person. Dogs, in particular, are attracted to them.

What if my pet eats the bait?

  • A few baits are not harmful, although eating a lot may cause vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Do not risk being bitten by taking the bait away from your pet.
  • Confine your pet for a couple of days and check the area for more baits. Most baits are gone within four days.
  • Try to avoid your pet's saliva for 24 hours, and wash skin or wounds that may have been licked.

Although officials say the chance for exposure is considered remote and rabies vaccine is generally considered safe, if you believe your pet has eaten one or there has been human exposure to the pack, call your local health department.

There is no exposure risk in handling the intact bait, according to health officials. As a precaution, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling.