(KYTX) - The Texas Department of State Health Services next week will launch its 20th annual airdrop of rabies vaccine in portions of the state.
The effort has successfully eliminated the canine strain of rabies and virtually eliminated the fox strain of rabies in Texas by vaccinating coyotes and gray foxes in a wide swath of southern and western Texas over the last 20 years. Now, the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program is testing an expanded effort to vaccinate skunks.
"Skunks and bats are now the animals in Texas most likely to have and spread rabies," said Dr. Laura Robinson, ORVP director. "Early tests involving skunks have been promising, and we're hopeful that expanding our study area will help show us the best way to eliminate skunk rabies in Texas."
DSHS first targeted skunks with limited vaccine drops in 2012 and 2013 in Fort Bend and Waller counties near Houston. This year, portions of 17 counties in East-Central Texas will be involved.
The 2014 ORVP will begin with planes taking off from an airport in Del Rio on Jan. 15 and from Zapata and Alpine on or about Jan. 21. Those aircraft will drop vaccine baits over rural areas along the Rio Grande to maintain protection against rabies as animals migrate in and out of the state.
A small bait drop will occur on or about Jan. 25 in an area centered on the Concho/McCulloch county line where a single cow tested positive for the Texas fox strain of rabies in 2013.
Finally, starting on or about Jan. 26 DSHS will begin the expanded effort to vaccinate skunks. Baits will be dropped over rural areas and wildlife habitats in the expanded skunk study zone, covering an area from Madison and Walker counties running southwest to Bastrop County then southeast to Waller County.
In all, approximately 2.5 million doses of the vaccine will be dropped. The vaccine is contained in a small plastic packet coated with fishmeal crumbles to make it attractive for wildlife to eat. 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.
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, immunizing domestic animals is crucial to stopping the spread of rabies. DSHS urges everyone to have their pets vaccinated as required by law.
For more information, visit www.TexasORVP.org.