DSHS combats rabies with aerial vaccine drop
The Texas Department of State Health Services this week begins its annual airdrop of rabies vaccine baits over portions of southern and western Texas in the continuing effort to protect people and livestock from rabies. Planes will take off from airports in Zapata and Alpine around dawn Wednesday, Jan. 4 and from Del Rio on Thursday, Jan. 12. They will drop about 1.8 million doses of rabies vaccine over the next month as part of the DSHS Oral Rabies Vaccination Program.
“This approach has been a huge success,” said veterinarian Ernest Oertli, the vaccination program’s director. “We haven’t seen a single human case of rabies in the areas covered by the program since it started in 1995, and the number of animal cases has dropped dramatically.”
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. 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 and 2011.
“We have effectively eliminated these two strains of rabies from Texas,” said Oertli. “Now our goal is prevent them from being reintroduced as animals move in and out of the state.”
The vaccine dose is enclosed in a small packet dipped in fish oil and coated with fish meal crumbles. The baits don’t pose any 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.
DSHS urges everyone to have their pets vaccinated against rabies, as required by law. Vaccinating domestic animals is essential to stopping the spread of rabies.