30th Oral Rabies Vaccination Air-Drop Program Launches in South Texas
January 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program (ORVP) in South Texas, which has successfully controlled and prevented domestic dog / coyote variant rabies and gray fox variant rabies infections among wildlife, livestock, and people.
No human rabies cases have been attributable to any of these variants in Texas since the ORVP began.
Texas Department of State Health Services’ airdrop flights launched on January 9, 2024, from Edinburg in Hidalgo County, distributing rabies vaccine baits over 18 border counties.
This year’s ORVP is expected to last two weeks, with additional flights launching from Del Rio and Alpine, Texas. Four aircraft and one helicopter will be deployed for the drop, with 8-16 flights likely per day at 500 to 1,000 feet above the ground.
Vaccine baits are dropped at half-mile intervals, and more than 820,000 oral vaccine rabies baits will be dropped at 64-70 baits per square mile.
The bait, which resembles a fast-food ketchup package, includes a vaccine wrapped in a plastic packet dipped in fish oil and coated with fish-meal crumbles to attract target wildlife.
The vaccine has been proven safe for more than 60 species of mammals and birds. The vaccine will not hurt pets or livestock if they consume one of the vaccine baits.
“Our goal is to vaccinate coyotes and gray foxes along the border to maintain herd immunity against rabies and keep new or previously eliminated rabies variants from becoming established in Texas,” commented Kathy Parker, ORVP project director, in a press release.
Before the ORVP, there had been human deaths in Texas due to canine rabies, and many people in the epizootic area had to receive postexposure rabies treatment.
Anyone finding one of the vaccine baits is encouraged to leave it alone, as wildlife can smell the human scent. People should wash their hands with soap and water if they have skin contact with the liquid portion (vaccine).
If you have an immunocompromising health condition, please inform your family physician immediately about your contact with a live vaccine. Contact with a vaccine bait should also be reported to the Zoonosis Control Branch by calling 1-877-722-6725.
The program costs approximately $2 million and is funded by the State of Texas and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As of January 10, 2024, various rabies vaccines are available for people in Texas.