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Rabies vaccine drop starts today in Erie, Niagara counties

Helicopters and aircraft will be used during the next 11 days to distribute rabies vaccine to raccoons in Erie and Niagara counties.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's wildlife service plans to start an "aggressive raccoon rabies vaccination initiative" today by using fixed wing aircraft, helicopter and hand-baiting methods to distribute the vaccine-laden baits.

The initiative will be undertaken along with the health departments in Erie and Niagara counties.

The tentative schedule, which may be adjusted for weather conditions, is:

*Today: Fixed wing aircraft baiting begins, and will take about one day to complete.

*Saturday: Hand baiting begins and will take about four to five days.

*Monday: Helicopter baiting begins and will take about four days.

So far this year, Erie County health officials report that 28 animals have tested positive for rabies, including 13 raccoons, 12 bats, one fox, one skunk, one deer, and one bovine on the Erie/Cattaraugus County border, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.

The baits used for the operation are not harmful to people, pets or wildlife, and consist of fishmeal, a wax binder and fish oil.

A vaccine chamber in the center of the bait is filled with an oral rabies vaccine that is licensed for use against raccoon rabies in the United States, the Erie County Health Department reported.

The department urged people not to disturb the baits and to keep dogs and cats on leashes so that wild animals can eat the bait.

People who are exposed to the bait or vaccine or have pets that eat the bait are asked to call 1-888-574-6556 to report the occurrence.

For questions or concerns, contact the New York State Department of Health at 1-518-473-4439.

More information is available online at: