DSHS Launches Wildlife Vaccine Bait Airdrop on Texas Border to Combat Rabies

News Release
January 5, 2023

The Texas Department of State Health Services renews its fight next week against domestic dog/coyote and Texas gray fox rabies virus variants with the launch of the 29th Oral Rabies Vaccination Program vaccine bait airdrop. Flights begin Tuesday, Jan. 10 from Edinburg and will continue for roughly two weeks, with vaccine airdrops occurring along the southern Texas border. Other flights in the program will originate from airports in Del Rio and Alpine.

“Our goal is to vaccinate wildlife, with target species being coyotes and gray foxes, along the border to maintain herd immunity and to keep past variants from being reintroduced or new variants from entering Texas,” said Dr. Susan Rollo, ORVP director. “We will be delivering vaccine baits to 18 counties this year.”

Nearly 814,000 oral rabies vaccine baits, roughly 64-70 baits per square mile, will be dropped. Funding for the approximately $2 million project is provided by the State of Texas and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Wildlife Services. Four Beechcraft airplanes from the Dynamic Aviation Group, Inc., and a Hughes helicopter from Texas Wildlife Services, will make 8-12 flights per day at 500 to 1,000 feet above ground level along half-mile interval lines.

The first ORVP bait drop took place in 1995 in South Texas to control an outbreak caused by a domestic dog/coyote variant of the rabies virus. The number of animal cases caused by this variant dropped from 122 cases in 1994 – the year before the first vaccine bait drop – to zero by 2000. There have been two cases due to the domestic dog/coyote rabies virus variant since that time (one in 2001 and one in 2004), each within a mile of the Rio Grande River.

In 1996, the first vaccine bait airdrop targeting the gray fox rabies virus variant was conducted in West-Central Texas. The number of animal cases caused by this variant decreased from 244 cases in 1995 to zero cases from May 2009 to April 2013. In May 2013, a cow infected with the gray fox rabies virus variant was identified in Concho County, leading to an ORVP contingency response with vaccine baits dropped in 2013, 2014 and 2015 throughout a 2,500 square mile area around the case. No additional gray fox rabies virus variant cases have been identified in Texas, and there have been no human cases of rabies attributable to these rabies virus variants since the ORVP began.

“The vaccine is proven safe in 60 species of mammals and birds,” Dr. Rollo said. “The vaccine cannot cause rabies in humans or animals, even if it is ingested. However, as a precautionary measure, if a human or domestic animal is exposed to the vaccine, the Texas Department of State Health Services should be contacted.”

Rabies typically spreads through the bite of an infected animal, and if a person or animal exhibits symptoms of rabies, it is almost always fatal. Immunizing pets and livestock, including horses, is critical to prevent disease spread and to protect animals and their owners.

Bats and skunks are the most significant sources of rabies today in Texas.

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(News Media Contact: pressofficer@dshs.texas.gov)