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Aerial defense against rabies returns to Texas
The Texas Department of State Health Services has begun its annual airdrop of rabies vaccine baits over portions of southern and western Texas, in the continuing effort to protect people and animals from rabies. Planes took off from an airport in Del Rio Jan. 9 and from Alpine and Zapata Jan. 14. They will drop about 1 million doses of rabies vaccine over wild areas of Texas as part of the Texas Department of State Health Science Oral Rabies Vaccination Program.
“We’ve successfully eliminated both the canine and fox strains of rabies from Texas using this approach,” said veterinarian Ernest Oertli, the vaccination program’s director. “We now need to maintain that immunity to keep these strains from being reintroduced as animals migrate in and out of the state.”
Animal cases of the canine strain of rabies in southern Texas fell from 122 in 1994 to zero in 2000. There have since been single cases in 2001 and 2004, each within a mile of the Rio Grande. The fox strain, prevalent in western Texas, dropped from 244 animal cases in 1995, the year before the project expanded to that area, to zero in 2010.
The vaccine dose is enclosed in a small packet dipped in fish oil and coated with fish meal crumbles. The baits don’t pose a risk to humans, but people should avoid handling them, since human contact makes it less likely a wild animal will eat the baits.
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 symptoms, the disease is almost always fatal.
While the aerial vaccination program has been successful in eliminating some rabies strains, skunks and bats remain major reservoirs of the disease in Texas. Immunizing domestic animals is crucial to stopping the spread of rabies. The Texas Department of State Health Services urges everyone to have their pets vaccinated as required by law.
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