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Larry Cooper (970) 494-7411
Jerry Redding (202) 720-4623

USDA CELEBRATES 100-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF FEVER TICK ERADICATION PROGRAM

LAREDO, Texas, July 11, 2006--The U.S. Department of Agriculture marked a milestone this month in a continuing battle against “Texas fever ticks” in cattle. One hundred years ago, in 1906, USDA established the National Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program.

At the turn of the century, the fever tick (Boophilus microplus and Boophilus annulatus), which carries a disease known as “Texas fever,” changed the landscape of U.S. history, wiping out 90 percent of cattle herds in affected areas and bringing an end to historic cattle drives. Due to the success of USDA’s eradication program, the only area in the United States still infected with fever ticks by 1943 was an approximately 500-mile long swath of land along the Rio Grande River adjoining Mexico.

Fever tick surveillance and eradication is still carried out today along the Texas-Mexico border by a cadre of dedicated “tick riders” or mounted patrol officers from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s veterinary services program. A team of approximately 60 federal tick riders routinely patrol along the Rio Grande River on horseback to monitor for signs of stray or smuggled livestock from Mexico that might carry ticks into the United States. The tick riders capture any animals they find by roping them, and each animal is checked for fever ticks. The tick riders also ensure that all cattle and horses being moved by local ranchers outside the designated permanent quarantine zone along the river are inspected from “head to hoof” to ensure they are tick free. The animals are also dipped or sprayed with a tickicide solution called Coumaphos.

A number of factors require VS’ continued vigilance in the area. An increasing local population of white-tailed deer can carry fever ticks, and the presence and growth of exotic introduced animals such as Nilgai antelope from India and red deer from Europe can also harbor the tick. In Mexico, where the ticks are endemic, there is growing evidence that the pests are becoming increasingly resistant to Coumaphos, which is the only tickicide currently approved in the United States to kill fever ticks. The general habitat for the tick has improved over time as well due to the presence of thick shrubs, grasses and woody plants that provide protection from exposure.

Today, 100 years later, the battle against the fever tick continues as USDA, along with the state of Texas’s Animal Health Commission and other cooperators, maintain the legacy of a historic program while addressing new and evolving challenges.

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