Public help sought in stemming potential fox rabies outbreak

Reporting possible cases is key to control, officials say

Writer: Steve Byrns, 325-653-4576, s-byrns@tamu.edu

Contacts: Bruce Leland, 210-472-5451, bruce.r.leland@aphis.usda.gov

Vance Christie, 325-597-1295, vschristie@ag.tamu.edu

 

BRADY – Officials with several state agencies are asking for the public’s help in monitoring a suspected outbreak of a strain of fox rabies not found in West Central Texas since 2009, state officials said.

Agencies directly involved with the “Enhanced Rabies Surveillance Testing for Select Areas of West Central Texas” are the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Texas Wildlife Services Program. AgriLife Extension is coordinating county-by-county educational efforts to inform the public.

Vance Christie, AgriLife Extension agent in McCulloch County, said efforts started May 28 and are currently being focused in McCulloch, Concho, Menard and Mason counties, but that Brown, Coleman, Gillespie, Kimble, Llano, Mills, Runnels, San Saba, Schleicher, Sutton and Tom Green will ultimately be part of the overall surveillance effort to keep the deadly virus from spreading.

“On May 6, we had a confirmed case of Texas fox rabies southwest of Melvin on the McCulloch/Concho county line,” Christie said. “This strain is different from the typical skunk variant and was thought to be eradicated from the area for the past six years. So far, this has been the one isolated case and was found in a cow.

“The main focus is not to cause a panic in the immediate area but rather to let landowners and homeowners understand the situation,” he said. “We need the public’s help to report any encounters they have with wildlife or strange-acting domestic animals or livestock. It’s important that the public knows that the state will pick up any of the cost associated with testing of the animals. But I want to stress that this is not the time for the ‘Old Three Ss,’ of shoot, shovel and shut-up to avoid any future problems. Doing so could actually prolong the problem.”

Christie said Wildlife Services is currently dropping oral rabies vaccine via helicopter in the four main counties. Animals eat the bait and are inoculated against rabies. As the number of vaccinated animals increases, the disease decreases and lessens the risk of human or animal exposure to rabies.

“Remember, an animal is considered suspect if it is a target species that is aggressive, unafraid or acting unusual,” Christie said. “Target species include fox, bobcats, raccoons, coyotes and free ranging cats and dogs.”

If a suspect animal is found in the target counties, Christie advises contacting the appropriate personnel such as animal control, sheriff’s department, county trapper or a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden.

“If you live out of the city limits and see a suspect animal and cannot contact appropriate personnel, humanely destroy it, but not with a headshot as the animal’s brain must be intact for testing. Keep the carcass cool, but do not freeze it, until appropriate personnel can be contacted.

“Above all, safety first! Remember to always wear latex or leather gloves when handling dead animals.”

If a human or domestic animal has been bitten, scratched or otherwise exposed to rabies by a wild or domestic mammal, or if there is any question about what constitutes exposure, contact the Texas Department of State Health Services. For West Central Texas, those contacts are Dr. Ken Waldrup, 915-834-7782 or 915-238-6216; or Kathy Parker at 432-571-4118 or  432-230-3007. For after hours emergency call 512-776-7111.

For more information see: http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/disease/rabies/ .

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