It’s a one-inch brownish block made from a compressed mixture of fishmeal and fish oil — just what might make a tasty snack for a raccoon.
The Allegheny County Health Department is hoping these fishy squares will attract the raccoons because they are laced with a rabies vaccine. Raccoon rabies is the most prevalent type of rabies in the county and across Pennsylvania.
Starting Monday and continuing through August 16, health department workers will be spreading 230,000 baits throughout the county to reduce the spread of rabies from raccoons to other animals and humans.
This is the 12th year the county has been vaccinating raccoons.
“It lasts indefinitely as far as we know,” said Sharon Silvestri, chief of the infectious diseases program with the department. “They do testing of some of the raccoons; they do testing to make sure that it’s working, and so far it’s been a very successful campaign.”
When the multi-state program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began in 2002, 23 rabid raccoons were found in Allegheny County. That number has steadily declined to six that were discovered last year.
According to Silvestri, the baits will be distributed in 110 communities in the county.
“Teams go out in cars and actually throw the baits out of the car into an appropriate area which would be an area that is wooded, an area where there are streams, where they can be put in culverts, where they can be put down into the sewers, and put into bushes and places in habitats where the raccoons would find them,” she said.
The health department advises anyone who finds a stray bait to pick it up using rubber or latex gloves or a shovel. If the bait is intact, toss it into a nearby ditch or wooded area. If the bait is partially eaten, place it in a trash bag. But if the bait contacts exposed skin, wash with soap and water. In rare cases, a blister-like rash can develop and you should contact your doctor.
Silvestri said the baits are not harmful to pets.
So far this year, there has not been any one “hot spot” of raccoon activity.
“We do get calls from people wanting to obtain baits to put out on their property, but we’re not able to do that,” Silvestri said. “But when we get calls from people in the community reporting large raccoon populations around them, we try to make sure that when we’re baiting in that community that that is taken care of for them.”
And if you see a raccoon out during the day or “acting strangely?”
“The best thing is don’t go near it and make sure your pets are put inside,” Silvestri said.
Then call police or the state agriculture department, Silvestri added and they will take the raccoon.