Wisconsin state vet urges owners to vaccinate against mosquito-borne viruses

Electron microscopy of West Nile virus.
Electron microscopy of West Nile virus.

Wisconsin’s state veterinarian is urging horse owners to inoculate their animals against Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.

He warned that mosquitoes would be circulating soon enough, spreading the two diseases.

“After this lingering cold, it’s easy to forget about vaccinating horses for diseases that are carried by mosquitoes,” said Dr Paul McGraw, of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“Before long, the sun will emerge to warm things up and the mosquito population will quickly increase.”

Horses require two doses of the vaccination initially, and then boosters at least annually.

“Work with your veterinarian on your horse’s vaccination program, so you get the best formulation for your horse and advice about additional boosters later in the season,” McGraw says.

Both viruses are transmitted by mosquitoes, and both may cause brain inflammation.

Both can be fatal to horses. Symptoms are similar for both diseases: depression, appetite loss, drooping eyelids and lower lip, fever, weakness, twitching, paralysis or lack of coordination, aimless wandering, circling and blindness.

Neither of the viruses is contagious between horses. While humans may also be infected by both the viruses, it does not pass between people and horses. Mosquitos biting warm-blooded animals is the only route of transmission.

Besides vaccination, McGraw recommends taking other steps to limit horses’ exposure to mosquitoes once the weather warms up:

  • Remove items from surrounding property that could collect stagnant water such as old tires, tin cans, plastic containers;
  • Keep rain gutters clean and draining properly;
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs, and drain water from pool covers;
  • Turn wading pools and wheelbarrows upside down when not in use;
  • Empty and replace water in birdbaths at least once a week;
  • Consider keeping horses in the barn from dusk to dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

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