With three confirmed cases of rabies in McCulloch County this year and two people undergoing treatments for exposure to rabies, area residents are being encouraged to be aware of the disease and doing their part to prevent its spread. According to the Texas Department of Health, a total of seven confirmed cases were reported in all of 2002. To date, two foxes and one raccoon in McCulloch County have been confirmed by state officials to have the disease. “Rabies is a continual problem in this part of the state,” said local veterinarian Dr. Glennon Mays. “Some years are worse than others, but the disease is always here.” Of the three confirmed cases, each was located in different portions of the county, one each in Lohn, Melvin and Rochelle. According to Dr. Mays, another case of rabies in a goat is believed to be reported in the Richland Springs area. The two individuals currently undergoing treatments for rabies are doing so as a precaution after coming into contact with the animal’s carcass after it was destroyed. “People need to use common sense and not handle a carcass suspected of being rabid,” said Dr. Mays. “If they do handle it, use extreme caution and wear protective gloves.” Besides the McCulloch cases, another report of dogs being exposed to a rabid animal in Concho County has several family pets under quarantine as mandated by state officials. For the past several years, McCulloch County has been part of a state-funded plan to airdrop rabies vaccines specifically targeting coyotes and grey fox. The project, Oral Rabies Vaccination Program (ORVP) is an innovative program that uses an oral rabies vaccine to control rabies in wildlife. The goals of the ORVP are to produce a zone of vaccinated coyotes along the edge of the South Texas canine rabies epizootic (an epidemic in animals) and to produce a zone of vaccinated gray foxes along the periphery of the West-Central Texas gray fox rabies epizootic. Over a period of several years, the areas involved in the epizootics will be reduced until the rabies problem in coyotes and foxes has been eliminated. Achievement of this massive project requires aerial distribution of oral vaccine/bait units. Twin engine planes are used for this mission. A recombinant vaccine (Merial) is used, which means only noninfectious portions of the rabies virus are used. A dose of the vaccine is placed in a plastic sachet and inserted in the hollow center of a bait composed of dog food or fish meal that has been mixed with a bonding agent and sealed with wax. When and where has the ORVP been conducted’ Prior to the ORVP in Texas, similar oral rabies vaccine programs for red foxes have been conducted with great success in Europe and Canada. Field trials along the eastern coast of the United States have been effective in combating raccoon rabies in limited areas. In February of 1995, the first ORVP for coyotes was conducted in 18 counties. At that time, it was the largest single vaccine/bait drop worldwide. Why was the ORVP needed’ The canine rabies epizootic became established in South Texas during 1988 and rapidly expanded northward. The gray fox rabies epizootic in West-Central Texas, which also began in 1988, moved in multiple directions. There have been included a 40-mile-wide band that formed a west to east arch along the leading northern edge of the canine rabies epizootic. The ORVP for coyotes continued to be conducted once a year over several years until the rabies problem was eliminated. Now the drop zone is a maintenance barrier along the southern boundary of the epizootic zone. The vaccine/bait drop occurs at the beginning of each year, as cool weather is needed to obtain maximum effectiveness. For instance, there are less available food sources for coyotes in cooler months, so they would be more likely to eat the vaccine/bait units. There are also fewer fire ants to eat the baits during that time of year. During the first year following the initial vaccine/bait drop in South Texas, the ORVP already achieved great success which was confirmed through surveillance of rabies cases and statistical methods. The first ORVP for gray foxes was conducted within the first two months of 1996. The drop zone included an extensive 25-mile-wide arch that encircled the epizootic area like a purse string. The area of distribution will be reduced and pulled inward over several years until control of this rabies epizootic has been accomplished. Hundreds of rabid dogs, coyotes and foxes included in the epizootics. There have also been human deaths due to canine rabies during this same time frame. Additionally, many people in the epizootic area have had to receive postexposure rabies treatment. This is because the canine strain of rabies virus, which was first found in coyotes, was readily spread to dogs and between dogs; humans are 5 to 10 times more likely to have contact with rabid pets than rabid wildlife. Facts about rabies You can be infected with the rabies virus if you are bitten by an animal that has the disease. You can also get rabies if the saliva from a rabid animal contacts your mucous membranes or any open wounds you might have. If you have such contact with a rabid animal, only a series of shots can keep you from getting the disease. Signs of rabies include: * Animals that have a change in behavior. * Wild animals which seem to be friendly or tame. * Wild animals–coyotes, foxes, bats, skunks, and raccoons–which you do not usually see in the daytime. * Animals that have a hard time walking, eating, or drinking. * Excitement or meanness in animals. * Animals that bite or scratch at an old wound until it bleeds. Facts about rabid animals If a pet is infected with the rabies virus, the way it acts may change. A friendly dog might want to be alone. A shy dog might want attention. Rabid dogs often become mean, roam, make strange noises and attack people and other animals. Rabid animals may drool, and they sometimes swallow stones, sticks, or other things. Later, as the rabid animal gets even sicker, it might have trouble chewing, swallowing, drinking or walking. It may not be able to close its mouth, and may appear to be choking. Never try to clear the throat of an animal with these signs. If you see an animal acting this way, call the local animal control agency right away. How to help prevent rabies * Have a veterinarian vaccinate your dogs and cats against rabies. By law, you need to do this every year or every 3 years depending on the type of vaccine used. Ask a veterinarian about the best vaccination schedule for your pet. Keeping your pets vaccinated protects you and them. * Restrain your pets; do not allow them to roam. * Avoid contact with wild animals and with dogs and cats you do not know. Do not approach strange dogs or cats. Do not try to hand-feed wild animals and do not keep them as pets. * Do not touch sick or injured animals. Call and report them to an animal control officer. It is very important that everyone, especially children, know how to prevent rabies. Pet vaccination requirements The state of Texas requires that dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age and on a 1 year or 3 year basis thereafter depending on the type of vaccine used.* Additionally, when traveling with a dog or cat, have in your possession a rabies vaccination certificate that was signed by a veterinarian. Check with your veterinarian about other vaccines that are available for a wide range of diseases. All dogs and cats over 3 months of age that are being transported into Texas must have been vaccinated against rabies within the last 12 or 36 months depending on the type of vaccine used.* Although not required by law, it is recommended that livestock (especially those that have frequent contact with humans), domestic ferrets, and wolf-dog hybrids should be vaccinated against rabies. Again, check with your veterinarian about other available vaccines for these animals. For an animal to be considered currently vaccinated against rabies, at least 30 days must have elapsed since the initial vaccination and not more than 12 or 36 months (depending on the vaccine used)* can have elapsed since the last vaccination. * All dogs and cats must receive a second rabies vaccination within one year of receiving their first vaccination, regardless of the type of vaccine used or the age at which the animal was initially vaccinated.