TENNESSEE (WATE) — Low-flying aircraft will be dropping oral “bait packets” starting Monday in order to distribute a rabies vaccine targeting wild raccoons. Tennesseans will need to take some precautions if they happen to find any of the oral rabies vaccine bait packets, according to the state health department.

The Tennessee Department of Health is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute the rabies vaccine bait packets. The USDA Wildlife Services will drop the bait packets from low-flying aircraft and helicopters over three weeks starting Monday, Oct. 3.

The drop zones will be in urban and rural areas where Tennessee borders neighboring states Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

“Controlling raccoon rabies keeps people, pets, and livestock safe,” John Dunn, a state epidemiologist , said in a news release from TDH. “We’re pleased to partner with USDA Wildlife Services in this program to reduce rabies in wildlife and protect the community.”

Bait packet drop schedule

Helicopter Distribution (urban areas)
• Oct. 3 to Oct. 8: Hamilton and Bradley counties
• Oct. 8 to Oct. 11: Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Carter, Unicoi, and Washington counties

Aircraft Distribution (rural areas)
• Oct. 6 to Oct. 10: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties
• Oct. 10 to Oct.15: Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, and Sequatchie counties

What to do if you find a bait packet

The oral rabies vaccine bait packets will be marked with a toll-free number (1-877-722-6725) for assistance or information if someone finds, or comes in contact with a bait packet.

Although officials say the vaccine and the bait packets are safe, the USDA Wildlife Services has issued these precautions for people and pets:

• Bait packets should be removed from where your pet could easily find and eat them.
• If you or your pet finds a bait packet, confine your pet and look for other baits in the area. Wear gloves or use a towel to toss the bait packet into a wooded or fencerow area.
• Do not try to remove a bait packet from your pet’s mouth, as you could be bitten.
• If eaten, one bait packet won’t harm your pet, but consuming several might upset your pet’s stomach.
• The bait packets will have a strong, fishmeal smell. Even though there is no harm in touching undamaged bait packets, always wear gloves or use a towel whenever you pick up a bait packet.
• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if the bait packet has ruptured.
• Instruct children to leave bait packets alone.
• A warning label on each bait packet advises people not to touch the bait, and contains the rabies information line telephone number.

For more information on rabies prevention or the oral rabies vaccine program, call the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free rabies line at 1-866-487-3297 or call TDH at 1-615-741-7247.