SAN BENITO — Every January, the city receives bait packets containing the rabies vaccine to orally vaccinate wildlife at risk of contracting and carrying the disease.

Covered in a fish meal powder to disguise as food, the packets are distributed throughout city limits for coyotes, bats or any other wild animal to eat, according to Javier Coronado, Animal Control Supervisor.

Animal control officers spread out the packets Tuesday evening as part of an annual rabies vaccination program that began in 1988.

The program was started to test whether coyotes would react to the oral vaccination.

Coronado said once it was proven to work, the program spread out to different counties.

The goal is to maintain a vaccinated zone to prevent the reintroduction of wildlife rabies and having to respond to sporadic cases of animal attacks.

“We dump out the small packets for all the high risk animals – raccoons, skunks, bats and what not – to eat. We go through our city limits, and we dump off the packets as we drive by,” Coronado said.

“The vaccination takes about a month to work. There is not necessarily a rabies problem, but this is for precautionary reasons. There are still rabies outbreaks, but we are trying to do our part,” he said.

Coronado said animal control officers receive training on how to distribute the vaccination.

“Rabies is transferred through saliva and blood. Rabid animals biting each other transmits it,” he said.

Coronado said it is easy to tell whether an animal is experiencing a rabies problem.

“A full blown animal will have foaming on the mouth, the aggression and you won’t tell until later on if a pet gets bitten,” he said.

“They will try to bite their wound and the rabies will affect their brain and more symptoms will arrive,” Coronado said.

Other signs include changes in behavior, such as wild animals being friendly or tame and nighttime animals coming out during the day.

Coronado said it is recommended to avoid contact with the vaccination packets.

Pets that eat the bait will not be affected, though they might experience diarrhea.

“Contact will not affect, but it is better to wash it off. Pets who accidentally eat it will now be rabies vaccinated, which is good,” Coronado said.

The city of South Padre Island will distribute the vaccination baits Wednesday in non-populated areas that may attract coyotes.

The city’s Animal Control Division will assist the Texas Department of State Health Services, Zoonosis Control Division, with the oral rabies vaccination program, which is aimed at reducing the dog strain of rabies carried by coyotes in Texas with the goal of eliminating it.

“We have participated in the program for 10 years, and it has proven to be successful,” City of South Padre Island Environmental Health Director Victor Baldovinos stated in a press release. “This is done as a preventive measure.”

VMS reporter Alana Hernandez contributed to this report.