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Fever ticks spread in Texas

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May 11, 2009
By dvm360.com staff
Austin, Texas -- Fever ticks continue to spread in Texas. Now state officials are calling for permanent funding to contain the outbreak.

In July 2007, the first preventive quarantine of 39,325 acres in Starr County, Texas, was established to enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tick Force and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) to inspect and treat livestock.

Today, there are more than one million acres under preventive quarantines in Staff, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Maverick, Dimmit and Webb counties, in addition to the half-million acres in the permanent fever-tick quarantine zone that runs alongside the Rio Grande from Del Rio to Brownsville.

"Now especially disturbing is the cluster of tick-infested premises near the Starr-Hidalgo county line, away from the permanent or temporary quarantine area," says Dr. Bob Hillman, Texas state veterinarian and head of the TAHC. "Epidemiologists are working to determine the source and distribution of this infestation. Whether it was caused by 'ticky' wildlife or inappropriate livestock movement is not yet known. It is still too early to know if an additional temporary preventive quarantine area is needed."

The lack of an animal identification system makes the work time-consuming and expensive, Hillman says. The program requires about $14.7 million a year for personnel, equipment, supplies and treatment products.

The program has received several infusions of emergency funding, including $4.9 million in January. While this should keep the program going until fall, a permanent funding source is needed, Hillman says.

"Fever ticks are not just a Texas issue," he says. "Although we've been able to keep these pests somewhat contained, they could escape our boundaries, and similar staffing, inspection and treatment will be needed in other states.

Addressing the foreign invader involves approval and use of new, innovative treatments for both livestock and wildlife."

The fever tick can survive winters as far north as Washington, D.C. Periodic incursions since 1943 have occurred in Texas, but only one, in the 1970s, eclipsed the current outbreak for the number of premises infested. It took six years to eradicate.