The Texas Department of State Health Services' annual airdrop of vaccine baits, credited with turning the tide against the spread of rabies strains carried by coyotes and gray foxes, will begin next week. Some 2.9 million baits will be dropped over parts of 41 Texas counties.
"The purpose has been to create and maintain zones of vaccinated coyotes in South Texas and gray foxes in West-Central Texas to prevent the spread of rabies to other animals and humans and to eventually eliminate canine and gray fox rabies in Texas," said DSHS veterinarian Ernest Oertli, director of the department's Oral Rabies Vaccination Program.
"No human cases of rabies in either area have occurred since the airdrops began," he said. Flights of five specially equipped airplanes will be from four airports. Scheduled start dates and locations are: Jan. 7, Zapata County Airport near Zapata and Kimble County Airport in Junction; Jan. 12, Pecos Municipal Airport; and Jan. 19, Del Rio International Airport.
The number of animal cases of canine rabies in South Texas has declined from a high of 142 animal cases when the program began in 1995 to none through October 2008. Gray fox cases are down overall from an all-time high of 265 cases in 1994 to 11 reported through October 2008.
The specialized baits for coyotes are made of fish meal. The vanilla-flavored bait for gray foxes is made of dog-food and molasses. Encased in each bait are 2 milliliters of oral rabies vaccine. "The vaccine cannot cause rabies in people or animals," Oertli said.
Because baits contain a biological agent and are less likely to be eaten by wildlife if people touch them, baits should not be handled. The brown baits, measuring 1 1/4 by 1 1/4 by 3/4 inches, are marked with a DSHS toll-free number, 1-877-722-6725, people may call for information.
"Getting pets vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian as required by law is still essential to preventing the spread of rabies," Oertli said. He added that a domestic animal's rabies vaccination can be safely given even if the animal recently ate an oral rabies vaccine bait.
The 11 counties in the 2009 South Texas vaccine distribution area are: Cameron, Dimmit, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, La Salle, Maverick, Starr, Webb, Willacy, Zapata and Zavala.
The 30 counties in the 2009 West-Central Texas vaccine distribution area are: Concho, Crane, Culberson, Ector, Edwards, El Paso, Irion, Jeff Davis, Kerr, Kimble, Kinney, Loving, Mason, McCulloch, Menard, Midland, Pecos, Presidio, Real, Reeves, Regan, San Saba, Schleicher, Sutton, Terrell, Tom Green, Upton, Val Verde, Ward and Winkler.