Wildlife Vaccine Airdrops to Combat Rabies Resume Along Texas Border

News Release
Jan. 12, 2022

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ Oral Rabies Vaccination Program resumes flights Jan. 12 from Zapata, Texas. This successful program, now in its 28th year, led to the elimination of the domestic dog-coyote and the Texas fox rabies virus variants from the state.

DSHS will utilize aircraft from Dynamic Aviation Group, Inc. and a Texas Wildlife Services helicopter to airdrop more than 1.17 million baits containing rabies vaccine in 19 counties along the southern Texas border. The project is slated to run for two weeks. Local and regional public health personnel will commence ground distribution of additional vaccine baits in South Texas and El Paso County in late January.

The first ORVP in southern Texas was initiated in 1995 following an outbreak caused by a domestic dog/coyote variant of the rabies virus, while a gray fox rabies outbreak occurring in West-Central Texas led to an ORVP the following year. Results were immediate. Texas experienced 122 cases of the dog/coyote rabies variant in 1994, the year before the first vaccine drop, but then recorded zero cases by 2000. Only two cases have been documented since then – one in 2001 and one in 2004. Both of those cases occurred within a mile of the Rio Grande River, which is why DSHS concentrates the baits in that area to help vaccinate animals that may enter the country across the southern border.

“The annual rabies vaccine/bait distribution along the border of Texas and Mexico is critical for the protection of humans, pets and livestock in Texas,” said Dr. Susan Rollo, ORVP director. “The maintenance distribution levels help keep the U.S. free of the canine strain.”

The vaccine baits to be dropped are small, plastic packets dipped in fish oil and coated with fishmeal crumbles to attract coyotes, gray foxes and other wild carnivores. Extensive research across a wide variety of species has proven the vaccine to be safe; only non-infectious portions of the rabies virus are used. Neither humans nor animals are in danger of developing rabies if they are exposed to the vaccine.

Rabies typically spreads through the bite of an infected animal. If a person or animal exhibits symptoms of rabies, it is nearly always fatal. Immunizing domestic animals like pets is critical to help stop the spread of the disease and protect the animals and their owners. Skunks and bats today are the most significant sources of rabies in Texas.

The State of Texas and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Wildlife Services will provide funding for the $2 million project. Airdrop operations will be launched from Zapata County Airport, Del Rio International Airport and Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport. 

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(Note: As a result of influenza and COVID-19 protocols, on-site media interviews cannot be accommodated this year.)

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

Last updated January 12, 2022