Rabies Vaccine Airdrops Resume Along Border

News Release
Jan. 8, 2020

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ successful Oral Rabies Vaccination Program gets off to a flying start today in its annual mission to protect people and animals from the deadly disease. This is the 26th year that aircraft have dropped packets of rabies vaccine over rural areas of the state to vaccinate wildlife and prevent them from exposing pets, livestock and humans to the deadly virus.

Approximately 1 million doses of vaccine will be distributed over the next two weeks, depending on weather and other conditions. Flights out of Zapata County Airport in Zapata begin on Wednesday, Jan. 8 before moving to Del Rio International Airport in Del Rio on Jan. 12 and to Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport in Alpine on Jan. 18.

In 1995, the Texas Oral Rabies Vaccination Program was developed 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 expensive post-exposure treatments.

Over the next several years, the program eliminated the canine and gray fox strains of rabies from Texas. Efforts are now concentrated on a 25-mile wide swath along the border from the Rio Grande Valley to Big Bend.

“Our goal is to vaccinate animals migrating into the state and keep those strains from being reintroduced,” said Dr. Laura Robinson, ORVP director. “This year vaccine baits will be distributed in 19 counties along the border.”

The vaccine is contained in small plastic packets covered in fishmeal crumbles to make them more attractive for wildlife to eat. The vaccine has proven safe in more than 60 species of animals and is not a danger to humans. 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 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.

Immunizing domestic animals is an important part of 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 sources of the disease in Texas, and there are hundreds of animal cases every year.

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(News Media Contact: Lara Anton, DSHS Press Officer, 512-776-7753)

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Last updated January 8, 2020