The number of rabid raccoons is declining in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its partner agency, Allegheny County Health Department, remain vigilant, kicking off a vaccine-bait campaign that runs through Aug. 17.

Hand baiting, in which packets similar in size to the block of a cellphone charger, will be distributed from vehicles in Canonsburg and Washington.

Some oral vaccine baits, the size of ketchup packets, will also be dropped by helicopter in Allegheny and Beaver counties, according to a news release from Ryan Scarpino, public health information officer for Allegheny County Health Department.

Aerial delivery allows baits to be distributed in remote areas that are not easily accessible to humans.

Residents who see bait are asked to leave it alone if possible. If the bait is in a place where children or pets could come in contact with it, adults are asked to don gloves and toss it into deeper cover. Most of the baits will be consumed about five days after being distributed.

It is not harmful to touch intact bait, but the fish oil and odor used to attract raccoons may cling to the fingers.

Punctured or otherwise damaged baits should be placed in a bag and disposed of with trash. People removing broken bait should use gloves or a shovel. If skin comes in contact with the broken bait, a person should immediately wash with soap and water.

Although it rarely occurs, anyone who develops a blister-like rash after contact should contact a health care provider immediately.

The bait is not a substitute for rabies vaccine administered at a veterinarian’s office because it is approved only for use in wildlife.

The program aims to protect people and their pets from rabies, which, if contracted, is almost always fatal.

The Allegheny County Health Department also asked residents to keep their pets on a leash, indoors or confined to their property as much as possible during the weeks of baiting and for one week following so that raccoons, not pets, consume the bait.

No rabid animals have been reported in Washington County through June of this year. Last year during the same period, there were two rabid raccoons and one rabid cat, according to the state Department of Health.

A single rabid raccoon was found in Greene County during the first six months of 2020.

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