ABINGDON, Va. – The United States Department of Agriculture is on a mission to prevent rabies from spreading in Southwest Virginia.
Over the next couple of days, you may see some extra planes and helicopters flying over your home.
Once a year, a team of nearly 30 wildlife experts, pilots and navigators at Virginia Highlands Airport get ready to distribute more than 800,000 rabies tablets.
USDA Assistant Rabies Coordinator Betsy Haley said the goal is to minimize rabies spread by having raccoons eat the fishy-smelling baits.
“It’s a good attractant for the raccoons to find and then it will coat the backs of their throats and vaccinate them for rabies,” she said.
Three people load each plane and place the tablets on a belt which then falls out of a funnel.
“We do not really have a lot of roads and mass acres of woods you can drive through,” she said. “It’s easier to put them out by plane.”
A helicopter disperses the rest in urban communities to target areas behind homes, golf courses and schools, but with mountains posing a challenge, navigators monitor weather forecasts and maps in a trailer.
Haley said this operation not only keeps rabies at bay but could help people having to pay for a rabies shot.
“The shots alone are really expensive,” she said. “You are looking at maybe $10,000 to $12,000 just for the shots.”
Five planes will cover the southwest region and three neighboring states over the next couple of days.
If your pet finds a packet when you’re out for a walk, it’s not unsafe to eat, but it may cause a sore tummy for a few days.