Texas has relaunched its rabies airdrop program, and will start dropping oral vaccines for wild animals later this week. Millions of doses of the edible vaccine will be dropped during the early months of 2015 and throughout the year. All told, Texas plans to distribute 2.7 million doses of the vaccine this year.
The vaccines are housed in small plastic containers with a fishmeal coating, and are initially being aimed at skunks, which are most likely to have rabies. They’ll be dropped by airplane in the terrain between Austin and Houston as a test run to reduce the number of rabies cases there.
The state has said the vaccines pose no danger to humans, though if humans handle the packets wildlife will be less likely to eat them. They have been tested safely on over 60 species of animals, but aren’t effective on domesticated animals like dogs, cats, and livestock.
Texas’s Department of State Health Services said on Monday that it is focusing its oral vaccine program, which started in 1995, on maintaining a rabies-free zone along the Rio Grande. They hope to create a similar rabies-free zone between Austin and Houston with the skunk-targeted version of the program.
Rabies is a virus typically spread through the saliva of an infected animal, by bite, and is almost always fatal. Even with the vaccines, Texas had more than 1,000 animal rabies cases in 2014.
Planes will start making flights on Wednesday.