NEW YORK (PIX11) — The Health Department will begin vaccinating raccoons against rabies in Staten Island on Thursday.

A helicopter will fly at a low altitude over Staten Island’s wooded and marshy areas, releasing baits with the vaccine, officials said.

“Rabies is a serious disease but we are hard at work to protect humans, pets and wildlife,” said city Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan. “Our public health teams are taking to the skies to get the vaccine where it’s needed most. While we immunize raccoons, New Yorkers can do their part by keeping their pets up to date on rabies vaccinations and maintain distance from wildlife.”

The baits resemble a ketchup packet and are fish-scented, officials said. Once the raccoons chew the bait they become immunized, protecting them against rabies infection.

While the bait is not harmful to people, it could cause a rash in extremely rare instances. The bait is also not harmful to pets and cannot cause rabies, but it can cause vomiting if several baits are eaten, officials said.

Rabies is a fatal but preventable disease that can spread to people and pets through the bite of a rabid animal. If left untreated, rabies can cause brain disease that ultimately results in death. Residents are urged to call 311 if they see an animal acting erratically.

To report a bite, call the Animal Bite Unit (212-676-2483) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the week. At night or on weekends, call 212-POISONS (764-7667).