Human & Animal Health
Chagas Disease, Fever Tick, and Zika Virus currently comprise Human and Animal Health
It is the triatomine bug, most commonly known as the “kissing bug” that can cause Chagas disease. Mature, the kissing bug (so-called because most bites occur around the lips) can be as long as 8 inches and are found in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia.
When an infected bug bites and feeds off a person it most often defecates around the wound. If a person scratches the area, it is then that the disease is transmitted to the person.
Chagas disease first causes a localized reaction. Later on the parasite can affect the digestive tract and heart; and can ultimately cause death. Sudden death has also been said to occur. Currently there are no vaccines and the few medications that exist are not always beneficial. Over 300,000 Americans, mostly Texans are infected with the disease.
When a canine carries the Chagas parasite it is also normal for the heart to become compromised. The symptoms are somewhat different in dogs however. Their symptoms are coughing, abdominal swelling and fainting during physical exertion. Landowners in South Texas, who have hunting dogs and family pets, have witnessed these debilitating effects that have ultimately led to the death of their dogs.
Little investigations have been conducted on Chagas disease, in fact; it is considered a “neglected tropical disease” says Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
STPRA has taken on this issue in order to educate its members and general public about the possible effects of the Chagas disease. Since very little is known about Chagas disease, STPRA will continue to provide current findings, evidence and information to our members and others that will in the end help with the optimum outcome: development of a therapeutic vaccine for humans and dogs.
STPRA has designed informational cards regarding Chagas disease and has provided these to our members at meetings, gatherings and also to our local veterinarians.
Berdon Lawrence, STPRA Issues Chairman, who brought this issue to the attention of the STPRA board, stated: “We owe it to our over 500 members to educate them about the disease.”
As the aforementioned information suggests, the lack of complete data of the disease is a catalyst to continue to gather information in order to keep our members informed of this potentially debilitating and rare disease.
STPRA plans to design a new informational card that will illustrate the recommended ways to control the kissing bug.
STPRA will continue to work with stakeholders, which include veterinarians, doctors and researchers; and will host informational meetings to continue to bring awareness to many in South Texas.
In 1893, the Texas legislature created the Livestock Sanitary Commission (now the Texas Animal Health Commission) with the mission of wiping out the fever tick. At the time, cattle fever ticks were endemic in the South, Southeast and in Southern California. By 1943, combined state and federal efforts pushed them back to the Mexican border in Texas. Since then, USDA's efforts have concentrated on keeping the tick contained within the permanent quarantine zone.
In the summer of 2007, it was discovered that the ticks had spread beyond the permanent quarantine zone, which is a narrow strip of land running for 500 miles along the U.S. Mexican border from Cameron to Val Verde Counties. As a result of this discovery, temporary quarantine zones were quickly added. Boundaries of the temporary zones have been adjusted several times since 2007, but maps of the current temporary zones can be found at http://www.tahc.state.tx.us/. Cattle from the permanent and temporary quarantine zones must be individually inspected and dipped before being allowed to leave the zones. There have been debates about how to most effectively combat the spread of fever ticks, but that task became harder with the 82nd legislature’s de-funding of fever tick operations by the Texas Animal Commission.
STPRA has been very active in advocating for more funding and solutions for fever tick eradication. In December of 2007 and the summer of 2008, STPRA sponsored large gatherings of ranchers, interest groups, and government officials in the Rio Grande Valley to discuss the fever tick issue and design remedies. STPRA board members and the executive director have also been very active in attending other meetings and working group sessions on fever ticks. Our organization has communicated diligently with state and federal agencies to seek their involvement and cooperation. We have asked the Food and Drug Administration to speed up research and approvals of vaccinations and treatment drugs. The membership has been kept informed on the issue through updates and presentations at member meetings. We have testified before legislative committees and have actively pursued additional funding at both the state and federal levels.
Partially as a result of STPRA’s efforts, some progress has been made in securing additional resources for fighting fever ticks. In 2008, the USDA dedicated about $5 million from an emergency fund to be applied toward fever tick eradication. In 2009, Congressman Henry Cuellar was successful in gaining approval of an increase in annual appropriations from about $9 million to about $20 million. Also in 2009, the Texas legislature increased appropriations by about $1 million, with an additional $500,000 for game fencing because wildlife often spread the ticks. Unfortunately, state funding was cut completely in 2011.
STPRA supports the provision of all necessary state and federal resources to control fever ticks and protect private property, including livestock, deer and exotic game. We also support the effective use of ivermectin treated molasses feed tubs for the control of fever ticks in cattle and ivermectin treated corn for the control of the fever tick in deer and the current development of a therapeutic vaccine for fever tick in cattle that is scheduled to be released this Fall.
The battle with fever ticks is far from over. Waging it has gotten increasingly complex and difficult as border violence has grown. STPRA will continue to be a loud, clear voice, both independently and with our allied organizations, advocating new effective approaches for controlling fever ticks and adequate funding to implement them. STPRA is committed to doing our part to protect the livelihoods of property owners who are threatened by a failure to eradicate fever ticks.