Cape May County is gearing up to distribute thousands of rabies vaccine baits by hand and by helicopter later this month. The program was started in the late 1990s and the county remains the only one in the state that does it.

County Health Officer Kevin Thomas said the health department is teaming up with the Mosquito Control Commission to distribute 31,320 rabies vaccine baits. The goal is to inoculate animals such as skunks and mainly raccoons which are the main carriers of rabies.

He said there is a lot of tourism in Cape May, especially campers, and the department wants to be sure the animals are inoculated.

So far this year, there have only been three animal rabies cases in the county, said Thomas which include a horse, a skunk and a bat.

The objective is for animals, mostly raccoons, to eat these vaccine-filled plastic pouches hidden inside fish meals and become vaccinated.

Thomas said the bait-dropping process can be a difficult task depending on weather but he expects the entire process to take about two to four weeks.

The baits will mostly be dropped by hand and chopper in deeply wooded areas of Cape May County. Thomas said the bait will have a warning label, which will include the phone number of the county health department in case people have questions.

While the vaccine is not harmful to pets or humans, Thomas still advises people to leave them alone. Thomas also said people should take a look at vaccination records for their pets.

"That's the biggest protection against rabies — ensuring your pet is up to date on its rabies shots," he added.

If one can't afford to get their dogs and cats vaccinated, there are a couple of free rabies vaccination clinics coming up. There is one in Middle Township on Sept. 21 at the Middle Public Works Garage on Mechanic Street from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.. The other is in Upper Township on Oct. 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Shore Veterinary Hospital located in Seaville.