Vaccine Airdrops Target Rabies in Texas

News Release
Jan. 11, 2016

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ successful Oral Rabies Vaccination Program again takes flight this week to prevent two strains of rabies from making a comeback in the state and to resume a study of whether the same approach can effectively fight rabies in skunks.

The ORVP was first launched in 1995 in the middle of a massive outbreak of rabies in coyotes and gray foxes in Texas. Each winter since, DSHS has dropped doses of rabies vaccine from aircraft over wildlife habitat in the state. When wild animals eat the vaccine packets, coated in tasty fishmeal crumbles, they become immune and can’t spread rabies to livestock, pets or people.

“We’ve been able to eliminate the coyote and gray fox strains of rabies from Texas but need to continue to distribute vaccine along the Rio Grande to prevent wild animals that migrate across the border from reintroducing the disease,” said Dr. Laura Robinson, ORVP director. “We also continue to evaluate whether the same method can help eliminate rabies in skunks in our test area of east-central Texas. If it does prove effective, it could be used elsewhere.”

Planes will take off from La Grange Tuesday afternoon to begin flights over the skunk study area, covering portions of 17 counties from Madison and Walker in the north, southwest to Bastrop, then southeast to Wharton and Fort Bend. Operations at La Grange will take about a week, weather permitting, before crews move to the border area for flights from Del Rio and then Alpine and Zapata. The project is expected to be complete around Feb. 1.

DSHS will host a media availability at Fayette Regional Air Center, 850 Airport Road, La Grange, from 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, Jan. 13. Media can obtain audio and video of planes being loaded, taking off and landing and interviews with key program staff.

The ORVP will drop approximately 1 million doses of vaccine along the border this year and 1.4 million in the skunk study area. 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.

Rabies is a deadly virus spread through the saliva of infected animals, usually by a bite. Preventing rabies is critical because once a person or animal displays clinical signs, the disease is almost always fatal. Immunizing domestic animals is crucial to stopping the spread of rabies. DSHS urges everyone to have their pets vaccinated as required by law.

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(News Media Contact: Chris Van Deusen, DSHS Press Officer, 512-776-7753)

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Last updated February 2, 2016