Rabies Control Takes Flight Along the Border

News Release
January 9, 2018

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ successful Oral Rabies Vaccination Program gets back in the air this week, as it resumes its annual mission to control rabies in the state. Each winter since 1995, aircraft have dropped packets of rabies vaccine over wild areas of the state to vaccinate wildlife and prevent them from exposing livestock and humans to the deadly virus.

The program will distribute about 1 million doses of vaccine over approximately two weeks, depending on weather and other conditions. Flights are scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 10 from the Zapata County Airport in Zapata before moving to Del Rio International Airport in Del Rio on Jan. 14 and to Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport in Alpine on Jan. 20.

The Texas Oral Rabies Vaccination Program began in 1995 in response to major outbreaks of the canine strain of rabies in southern Texas and the gray fox type of rabies in western Texas. The outbreaks involved hundreds of animal cases, caused two human deaths and forced thousands of people to get costly post-exposure treatments.

Over the next several years, the program dramatically reduced the number of canine and gray fox rabies cases in Texas, and no cases have been detected since 2013. Efforts are now focused on a 25-mile wide swath along the border from the Rio Grande Valley to Big Bend to vaccinate animals migrating into the state and keep those strains from being reintroduced.

The vaccine has proven safe in more than 60 species of animals and is not a danger to humans, but people should avoid handling the vaccine baits because human contact makes it less likely wild animals will eat them. Dogs, cats and livestock that eat the vaccine baits are not considered vaccinated against rabies.

Immunizing domestic animals is crucial to stopping the spread of rabies, and DSHS urges everyone to have their pets vaccinated as required by law. While the ORVP has eliminated some types of rabies, bats and skunks remain significant carriers of the disease in Texas, and there are hundreds of animal cases every year.

Rabies is spread through the saliva of infected animals, usually by a bite. Preventing rabies is critical because once a person or animal displays symptoms, the disease is almost always fatal.

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(News Media Contact: Chris Van Deusen, DSHS Director of Media Relations, 512-776-7119)

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Last updated January 9, 2018