Fever Tick fight heats up in South Texas

Bovine babesiosis, commonly known as Texas cattle fever, is a deadly disease of cattle.

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently stepped up response efforts in Cameron County to prevent infected cattle, equine and wildlife infected with cattle fever ticks from leaving the temporary quarantine zone and entering uninfected areas of the state.

Recent inspections turned up six more premises infested with disease-carrying ticks.

The latest threat is related to an outbreak of the ticks in a wild herd of nilgai, an exotic breed of Asian antelope first brought to South Texas in the 1930s. The nilgai are a non-native species that destroy habitat and compete with native species such as white-tailed deer. They are extremely mobile and adaptive and represent a perfect host for cattle fever ticks.

Wildlife biologists estimate as many as 40,000 nilgai live in Texas, man, if not a majority of them, free ranging in South Texas. Concern over a large number of the nilgai infected by the ticks first surfaced in February of 2007 when USDA-APHIS Mounted Patrol Inspectors (MPI) were presented with a harvested nilgai antelope that had trailed from privately-owned land to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) property at Boca Chica Beach south of Brownsville in Cameron County.

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APHIS personnel inspected the animal and found it infested with southern cattle ticks. This finding required APHIS to impose an “exposed” quarantine on the FWS property and an “infested” quarantine on the premises from where the animal had trailed.

Bovine babesiosis, commonly known as Texas cattle fever, is a deadly disease of cattle caused by single-celled organisms transmitted by two varieties of what have become known as cattle fever ticks. Texas cattle fever severely damaged the U.S. cattle industry until the beginning of the 20th century.

 Thanks to highly effective and collaborative control efforts between producers and state and federal agencies, which established the Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program (CFTEP) in 1906, cattle fever ticks were largely eradicated from the country by 1943. As a result, the United States became free of Texas cattle fever disease, but cattle fever ticks still thrive just across the border in Mexico. Reintroduction of the tick into the U.S. could once again prove devastating to the cattle industry.

State and federal animal health officials report the number of infected nilgai continues to grow in South Texas and the threat continues to elevate. TAHC and USDA report surveillance efforts have been ongoing since the temporary quarantine area (TPQA) went into effect in October (2014). Currently, 95 percent of premises inside the TPQA have been identified, and 94 percent of cattle and 93 percent of equine on those premises have been inspected or "scratched."

Quarantine zone

The TPQA originally started with six new premises located outside the permanent quarantine zone. To date, however, six new premises have been identified in the TPQA, which makes a total of 12 infested premises so far.

In an effort to facilitate the Cameron County Fever Tick response operations, an office has been set up. The location of the TAHC/USDA Cameron County Fever Tick Response Office is located at 105 West Ocean Boulevard in Los Fresnos.

As part of establishing the quarantine, livestock must be inspected and treated prior to movement. The schedule for spraying equine (horses) or cattle that need a 14-day permit to move has been modified. Spraying is now available every other week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Saturdays or by appointment. To schedule an appointment, call 512-800-2521. The schedule may be found on the TAHC website at http://www.tahc.texas.gov/animal_health/fevertick/fevertick.html. The spraying location is currently at the Los Fresnos Rodeo Arena. However, on January 15 (2015) this location will be moved to 30934 FM 1561 in San Benito (on FM 1561, three tenths of a mile west of FM 803.)

 Already, animal health officials report a new cattle public dipping vat location is open for treating livestock. The vat is located at that same location in San Benito (30934 FM 1561).

 Also, hunters who harvest wildlife such as white-tailed deer, nilgai and other free-ranging wildlife and exotic hoofstock in the TPQA must call 956-254-3507 to have harvested animals inspected and treated for cattle fever ticks. For more information about targeting hunters and harvesting wildlife that could be infected by the ticks, watch a short, informative video here.

"Our primary goal is to protect the health of Texas livestock and maintain marketability," said Dr. Hank Hayes, Incident Commander for the event. "We are here to help and work with local ranchers and producers."

 The TPQA consists of approximately 223,000 acres. The temporary quarantine area will remain in effect until all premises within it are released from fever tick quarantines and the area is determined no longer at risk of infestation. Within this area, all livestock (cattle and equine) and live or hunted wildlife (such as nilgai antelope and white-tailed deer) capable of hosting fever ticks are subject to movement restrictions, inspections and treatment as prescribed by TAHC fever tick regulations.    

The Temporary Preventive Quarantined Area is defined as that portion of the state within the boundaries of a line beginning at a point in Cameron County where Farm to Market Road (FM) 511 and Captain Donald L. Foust Road intersect (25.950997;-97.412259); thence, northwest along FM 511 for 9.43 miles to FM 803 (26.028682; -97.530968); thence, north along FM 803 for 21.3 miles to FM 2925 (26.335137; -97.491350); thence, east along FM 2925 for 7.28 miles to the east side of the Adoplh Thomae Jr. County Park eastern-most parking lot (26.349462; -97.390468) (parking lot); thence, north along the east side of the parking lot for 61.3 yards to the Arroyo Colorado (26.349960; -97.390577); thence, east along the Arroyo Colorado shoreline for 4.45 miles to Laguna Madre (26.353917; -97.325179); thence, southeast along the Laguna Madre shoreline for 55.33 miles to the Brownsville Navigation District Ship Channel (26.064276; -97.775511) (Brownsville Ship Channel); thence, southwest along the Brownsville Ship Channel for 16.4 miles to the point on Windhaus Road that is a straight line southwest of the Brownsville Ship Channel (25.952057; -97.403765); thence, north along Windhaus Road for .1 mile to Captain Donald L. Foust Road (25.952738; -97.404135); thence, west along Captain Donald L. Foust Road for .52 miles to FM 511 (25.950997; -97.412259), the beginning.   

The permanent cattle fever tick quarantine zone (PQZ) ranging from 200 yards to 10 miles wide along the Rio Grande River was established in 1942. It extends 500 miles, through eight South Texas counties from Devils River to the Gulf of Mexico. It was created as a buffer zone to Mexico and allows tick incursions from Mexico to be detected and eliminated quickly so that cattle in the zone do not spread fever ticks into the interior of the state.

For more information about the temporary preventative quarantine area and movement requirements, call 956-546-6004 or 512-937-8843. For additional information about the Cattle Fever Tick visit: http://www.tahc.texas.gov/animal_health/fevertick/fevertick.html

http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/tick/downloads/pest_alert.pdf

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