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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Tick trouble takes 30 years to terminate

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

Texas Tick Fever, aka Spanish Fever, Texas Fever and Poisonous Halitosis was first noticed in 1814 in South Carolina. Little attention was paid to the disease until Texas trail drivers began driving herds of Longhorns from south Texas to Kansas railheads for marketing.

Southern livestock were immune to the fever, but when driven out of the tick areas mysterious things began to happen to local northern herds after the southern herds passed. Approximately 30 percent of the local herds died an agonizing death. The problem was so serious that five states eventually passed quarantine laws against southern herds. It was devastating to the Texas livestock industry.

Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture proved the lowly Texas tick carried the fever. There was a solution, but it required more than thirty years of constant effort to rid the south of the pest.

Dipping vats were filled with concentrate into which livestock were totally submerged, killing the ticks instantly. At times, local law had to be called to enforce owners to comply. Protestors even dynamited dipping vats in what was called "The Dipping Vat Wars." Eventually, the Texas pastures were proclaimed clean and in 1906 the USDA established The Fever Tick Eradication Program along a narrow strip of grasslands on the Texas/Mexico border.

Since the start of the program more than one hundred years ago, approximately sixty tick inspectors ride these lands, working four ten-hour days each week, living in remote camps while watching for stray livestock in their specific zone. After patrolling by horseback each day they fill out their work forms each night in detail. On weekends, they return to their families and home.

If Mexican-owned livestock are found, they are turned back across the Rio Grande to Mexico. If American livestock are found in the zone, they are inspected for ticks immediately. If clean, they are turned north back to private lands. If ticks are found, the owners are notified and his ranch quarantined for six to nine months. No livestock, hides, sand, dirt, gravel, posts or firewood are to leave the ranch unless inspected. Even ranch equipment must be sprayed before leaving the property.

This strict program will remain in place until the Mexican government rids their land of ticks.

Strangely enough, there is a "tick line" drawn across the middle of Texas. Higher altitudes, cold freezing weather and good old Panhandle weather are too tough for the tick. Below the line, ticks abound. Above the line, there are no ticks.

As Paul Harvey would say, "and now for the rest of the story." Texas Fever has the distinction of being the first disease discovered that is caused by a micro-organism proved to attack its victim exclusively through the agency of an intermediate host (tick) or carrier of its germ.

This discovery and its elimination by dipping led to great triumphs later in sanitary science. For example, the French were smart enough to design and build the Panama Canal. However, they were stymied by the constant ravages of Yellow Fever among construction workers.

America took over the job and with the knowledge gained fighting the Texas Fever tick completed the project merely by controlling the mosquito which carried the Yellow Fever germ.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" March 13, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
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