The Texas Department of State Health Services’ successful Oral Rabies Vaccination Program resumes flights in its annual mission to control rabies in the state. This winter marks the 25th year that aircraft have dropped packets of rabies vaccine over wild areas of the state to vaccinate wildlife and prevent them from exposing livestock and humans to the deadly virus.
The program will distribute approximately 1 million doses of vaccine over the next two weeks, depending on weather and other conditions.
Flights are scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 9 from the Zapata County Airport in Zapata before moving to Del Rio International Airport in Del Rio on Jan. 13 and to Culberson County Airport in Van Horn on Jan. 19.
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 costly post-exposure treatments.
Over the next several years, the program almost completely eliminated canine and gray fox rabies from Texas. It now concentrates its efforts on a 25-mile wide swath along the border from the Rio Grande Valley to Big Bend to vaccinate animals migrating into the state and keep those strains from being reintroduced.
The vaccine has proven safe in more than 60 species of animals and is not a danger to humans. The vaccine is contained in small plastic packets covered in fishmeal crumbles to make them more attractive for wildlife to eat.
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 carriers of the disease in Texas, and there are hundreds of animal cases every year.