Fighting Rabies in WNY

August 21, 2012 Updated Aug 21, 2012 at 6:40 PM EDT

By WKBW Admin

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August 21, 2012 Updated Aug 21, 2012 at 6:40 PM EDT


Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - As rabies in raccoons continues to spread throughout the Northeast, Western New York has become one of the front lines in the fight.

The US Department of Agriculture flew planes over Erie and Niagara counties Tuesday, dropping pellets that contain vaccines for animals to eat.

Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County Commissioner of Health, explains "what we'd like to see is that these pellets are dropped where we might find this wildlife, and then the wildlife would eat these pellets and then get immunized against rabies." This would hopefully stop anymore animals from getting the disease and spreading it.

The numbers in Erie County alone are alarming.

Burstein tells Eyewitness News that 30 animals have tested positive for rabies this year. That includes 13 raccoons and 13 bats.

In 2012 so far, 378 people have needed rabies immunizations in Erie County. That's almost the total of what Erie County saw last year.

Burstein says warm weather has been causing an increase risk of exposure for people and pets. She explains "It's been very very hot and so bats have been forced out of the areas where they may hide or other cool areas."

No infected pets have been reported, but Burstein maintains it's important to keep an eye out.

"Rabid animals, one problem is they have unusual behavior," Burstein says. "So a dog or cat that's usually very friendly, if they have rabies, they might attack somebody."

Later this week, pellets will be placed on the ground. Next week they will be dropped from helicopters.

However, even after, the threat will continue.