Calling it an ongoing battle against dreaded Texas cattle tick fever, state and federal animal health officials say monitoring the latest temporary quarantine area in Deep South Texas has turned up additional premises testing positive for the presence of disease carrying cattle fever ticks.
First established last year, the temporary preventive quarantine area (TPQA) was declared in October (2014). It is located in Cameron County on the southern tip of Texas and is adjacent to the permanent fever tick quarantine area that starts at the mouth of the Rio Grande River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico and stretches up the international border between Texas and with Mexico for about 500 miles.
At the time the TPQA was established, six premises in total were designated as infested with Babesia bovis and/or B. bigemina, microscopic parasites often spread by tick bites. Fever ticks, known scientifically as Rhipicephalus (formerly Boophilus) annulatus and R. microplus, are capable of carrying these protozoa, or microscopic parasites, which in turn inject the protozoan into the bloodstream of cattle as they feed.
The Babesia organism attacks and destroys red blood cells once an animal is infected, causing acute anemia, high fever, and enlargement of the spleen and liver, ultimately resulting in death for up to 90 percent of susceptible cattle.
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The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), which regulates and supervises all animal health issues within the state, works hand-in-hand with USDA-APHIS to monitor quarantine areas. According to a December update last week, the number of infected premises doubled over a two month period, bringing the total number of premises infested to 12 by the end of the year. Since then, four more premises have been discovered. According to TAHC officials, as of last week 16 infested premises are now identified within Cameron County.
"Our primary goal is to protect the health of Texas livestock and to continue focusing our efforts on eradicating the fever tick out of South Texas," said Dr. Max Dow, incident commander for the event. "We thank local producers and ranchers for their cooperation and we continue to ask for their help in complying with the TPQA requirements."
USDA and TAHC officials first became aware of a potential problem outside of the permanent fever tick quarantine area nearly two years after a hunter reported heavy tick infestation on an exotic antelope (a nilgai) he had shot. Animal health officials tested the animal and the ticks and determined they were infected with the Babesia organism. Following that event a number of wild nilgai were tested and it was determined that the far-ranging wildlife species had not only become infected with the ticks but also had migrated outside the permanent quarantine zone and were spreading the problem to premises used for livestock.
As a result, USDA-APHIS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) established a nilgai herd reduction plan that called for population control on property directly across the Rio Grande River from Mexico, including an area adjacent to the Port of Brownsville to the south and north up the coastline to include the Laguna Vista, Port Isabel areas. Nearly 250,000 acres are included in the temporary quarantine area.
Under guidelines of the TPQA, movement of livestock and horses to points outside the quarantine area requires that animals are sprayed or dipped to remove ticks and tested prior to movement. In addition, all exotic game and native wildlife hunted and shot in the TPQA must be inspected prior to movement outside the temporary quarantine zone.
The primary location for spraying horses or dipping cattle scheduled for movement outside the TPQA is at the Lozano Vat, located on FM 1561 in San Benito, three tenths of a mile west of FM 803. The Los Fresnos Rodeo Arena is an alternate spraying location and is available by appointment only on Wednesdays. The hours of the Lozano Vat are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours spraying is available by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call 512-800-2521.
Harvested game must be inspected
Hunters who harvest wildlife such as nilgai, white-tailed deer, and other free-ranging wildlife and exotic hoofstock in the TPQA must call 956-254-3507 to have animals inspected and treated for cattle fever ticks before moving the carcass out of the containment zone.
The Temporary Preventative 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; thence, northwest along FM 511 for 9.43 miles to FM 803; thence, north along FM 803 for 21.3 miles to FM 2925; thence, east along FM 2925 for 7.28 miles to the east side of the Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park eastern-most parking lot; thence, north along the east side of the parking lot for 61.3 yards to the Arroyo Colorado; thence, east along the Arroyo Colorado shoreline for 4.45 miles to Laguna Madre; thence, southeast along the Laguna Madre shoreline for 55.33 miles to the Brownsville Navigation District 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; thence, north along Windhaus Road for .1 mile to Captain Donald L. Foust Road; thence, west along Captain Donald L. Foust Road for .52 miles to FM 511, the beginning.
The TPQA 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 & 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. For more information about the temporary preventive quarantine area and movement requirements, call 512-937-8843.