Attention Horse Owners
Attention Horse Owners; It’s not too late to vaccinate!
There is still time for horse owners to vaccinate their horses with the dog days of summer just underway. If you already vaccinated; consider vaccinating for Equine Encephalitis and West Nile virus. Equine encephalitis (eastern (EEE), western (WEE) or Venezuelan (VEE)) and West Nile Virus (WNV) belong to a group of viral diseases known as “Arboviruses”, diseases transmitted from asymptomatic wild birds and rodents to horses by biting insects like mosquitoes.
“Horses are particularly susceptible to the infection because they are outdoors and they are attractive feeding hosts for mosquitoes which transfer the virus from other animals, mostly birds, to horses,” says New York’s State Veterinarian, Dr. David Smith. “Every horse that becomes sick or dies due to EEE is a needless tragedy. There are safe vaccines that provide excellent protection against the disease at a very reasonable price.” The disease is generally fatal, especially in the case of eastern encephalomyelitis. Prevention of viral encephalitis includes insect control and vaccination. Horses can also receive vaccinations against West Nile Virus.
According to Smith, the signs of the two diseases in horses are quite variable, ranging from barely noticeable to signs such as staggering, blindness, and unconsciousness. In those horses showing visible signs of disease, 50 to 90% of cases may be fatal. All of the reported equine fatalities due to EEE in NYS in recent years have been from either unvaccinated horses or those with an unknown vaccine history.
Dr. Smith also recommends that vaccinations should be given by a licensed veterinarian to ensure that the vaccine used is effective and the injections are given correctly. Properly handled and administered vaccinations are effective for one year and follow-up boosters are required on an annual basis.
Is it a 100 % guarantee that a vaccinated horse will never contract the disease? No, however vaccination is the best way to protect horses. There are additional precautions that should be taken to further protect your house; minimizing standing water in barnyard and changing water in horse troughs to discourage mosquito breeding.
“While EEE and West Nile Virus infections are rare, they continue to be a threat each year to both horses and humans. Horse owners need to prepare now for possible EEE and WNV activity in the upcoming months”, Smith cautions. Commonly found near wetland habitats, the virus multiplies in wild birds and is then transmitted by mosquitoes to horses and to people.
“Finally”, says Dr. Smith, “any time a horse or any other animal is displaying signs of neurologic disease always consider rabies as a possible cause. Exercise caution and contact your veterinarian immediately for assistance.”
There are no confirmed or reported cases of Equine Encephalitis or West Nile in horses in NYS yet; however there were 10 EEE cases reported to NYS Ag & Markets last year. With the high amounts of rainfall to date, experts expect the season to start sooner than usual. For a complete vaccination and booster schedule work with your local veterinarian or call Lynn Bliven at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office at 585-268-7644 ext. 18, 716-699-2377 ext. 124 or email lao3 [at] cornell [dot] edu.
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