By Julie Tomascik
The cattle fever tick, and the disease it carries, has the capability to cripple the Texas cattle industry if it’s not contained.
With the spread of ticks outside the permanent quarantine zone, Texas ranchers, veterinarians and animal health officials are growing increasingly concerned.
As of Feb. 8, more than 500,000 acres in Texas are under various quarantines. Counties with infested premise quarantines include Cameron, Kleberg, Live Oak, Maverick, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.
There are 2,083 adjacent and check quarantined premises and 98 exposed quarantined premises, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).
Counties with exposed, adjacent or check premises quarantines include: Bastrop, Bee, Caldwell, Calhoun, Cameron, Colorado, Denton, DeWitt, Dimmit, Falls, Fayette, Frio, Goliad, Gonzales, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kendall, Kinney, Kleberg, Live Oak, Maverick, McMullen, Milam, Mills, Parker, Runnels, Starr, Uvalde, Val Verde, Webb, Wharton, Willacy and Zapata.
“I think we are less vigilant to check for ticks because the eradication program worked so well,” said Jared Ranly, a large animal practitioner in Falls County.
Eradication programs began in the early 1900s, and a permanent buffer zone was created in 1943 along the Texas-Mexico border to help prevent re-establishment of ticks.
The disease could have a catastrophic effect on Texas, the number one cattle state in the nation, because of the pest’s reproductive cycle.
Females lay up to 4,000 eggs, each of which finds a host to start the life cycle again. The tick remains on the host for about 25 days. Any animal movement during this time allows the ticks to be dropped in new locations, further spreading the disease.
The tick carries a disease agent called Babesia. The organism attacks red blood cells and causes anemia and death following symptoms, such as spleen and liver enlargement and high fever.
If the cattle fever tick feeds on blood from an infected animal and lays eggs, the offspring will carry the disease agent to the animal it feeds on.
Once fever ticks are confirmed on a premise, an “infested quarantine” is issued for both the livestock and the premise.
“In accordance with fever tick regulations, cattle and horses on the infested premises are systematically inspected and treated at either 14-day or 28-day intervals, depending on the treatment protocol developed for that herd and premises, for six to nine months, dependent upon the time of year the infestation is discovered,” TR Lansford, assistant executive director of Animal Health Programs for TAHC, said. “Cattle can be moved from the premises after two ‘clean’ inspections and dip treatments, between seven and 14 days apart, with the second treatment being through a swim vat.”