Texas rabies air drop program tackles deadly disease

Texas health officials last month conducted its 26th annual rabies vaccine air drops in rural areas along the Texas/Mexico border in an ongoing effort to prevent the deadly rabies strain from infecting people and animals.

Started in 1995, the Texas Oral Rabies Vaccination Program eliminated the canine and fox strains of rabies from Texas. This year’s air drops, conducted over a two-week period in January, was concentrated on a 25-mile swath along the border from the Rio Grande Valley to Big Bend and 19 counties on the border.

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About one million doses of vaccine were distributed.

Laura Robinson, ORVP director, said the program’s goal is to vaccinate animals migrating into the state and keep rabies strains from being reintroduced.

The vaccine is contained in small plastic packets covered in fishmeal crumbles to make them more attractive for wildlife to eat. The vaccine has proved safe in more than 60 species of animals and is not a danger to humans.

People should avoid the 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, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Officials say 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.

The program began as a 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 expensive post-exposure treatments, say officials.

The program costs $2 million is partially funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services.