Texas Animal Health Commission Attempts to Corral Fever Ticks

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The feared pest, fever ticks have officials with the Texas Animal Health Commission on alert.

In recent months, the ticks were found in Dimmit, Maverick, Starr, Zapata, and Webb counties.

The insects are prevalent in Mexico and within the 500-mile “permanent quarantine zone" along the Rio Grande from Del Rio to Brownsville.

The discovery of infestations outside the so-called “buffer-zone” demanded immediate action by the TAHC, and officials set up temporary fever tick quarantines to contain the ticks.

If the ticks are somehow able to travel any farther north Steve Wiske, a Beef-Cattle Clinician at Texas A&M's Veterinary School, says the $6.5 billion dollar cattle industry could suffer drastically.

"The annual loss to the cattle industry of Texas would approach $1.3 billion dollars," Wikse said.

Wiske says the increase in fever tick numbers is due in part to wildlife and stray cattle crossing over from Mexico.

He also says recent weather patterns could be to blame.

"The usual high rainfall that we had this spring going into the summer, it's been very good conditions for the replication of the cattle fever tick," Wiske.

The threat of the tick lies in its bite.

"When the tick takes a blood meal, it injects the protozoa into the bloodstream, explains Wikse. “And this protozoa enters the blood cells and causes them to burst."

Symptoms of infection include acute anemia, and an enlarged spleen and liver.

Once the protozoa begin to destroy the blood cells, statistics show that death is inevitable. Ninety percent of infected cattle die.

The TAHC has now restricted the movement of cattle from quarantined areas and offered cattle-beef producers two options.

They could dip their livestock every seven to 14 days and have them inspected manually. The second option is for producers to dip the cattle repeatedly for nine months until declared tick-free.

The ticks are not threatening the Brazos Valley right now but Wikse says their presence outside the “buffer-zone” is too close for comfort for the entire state of Texas and the country.