Calling it an isolated case, the Texas Department of State Health Services has confirmed a single cow in McCulloch County has tested positive for Texas fox rabies, the first such case in the state in over four years, raising concerns that the deadly virus may be returning to Central Texas after several years of intense eradication efforts.

In 1995, one of the worst outbreaks of rabies in the U.S. reached its peak with 644 cases of canine rabies (Canis latrans), reported in a 20-county region from 1988-1995. Texas state officials declared a state health emergency. Adding to the problem was a separate outbreak of fox rabies in West Texas, which quickly spread south into the Hill Country.  A statewide rabies quarantine was ordered and an experimental aerial rabies vaccine program was launched in an effort to manage the outbreak.

In all, hundreds of animals in Texas, including pets and livestock, were infected and died as a result and over 2,000 people received post-exposure shots. But the aerial vaccine program was deemed successful and every year since 1995 bait laced with rabies vaccine has been distributed in hot spots all across the state. In 2004, federal officials declared the canine strain eliminated from the state and the last case of the more dreaded fox rabies was reported in 2009, leading health officials to declare the virus virtually eradicated from Central Texas.

Until now.

With the confirmation of a strain of fox rabies in a Melvin, Texas, cow last week, officials with several state agencies are asking for the public’s immediate help in monitoring the suspected outbreak.

Agencies directly involved with the “Enhanced Rabies Surveillance Testing for Select Areas of West Central Texas” include the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Texas Wildlife Services Program. AgriLife Extension is coordinating county-by-county educational efforts to inform the public.

State Health Services officials say as temperatures continue to climb in the summer months, the chance for a rabies outbreak increases. To make matters worse, drought conditions heighten the chance of spreading the disease as more animals flock to shrinking drinking water sources in the wild.