Vaccinate horses against mosquito-borne diseases

Buddy and other horses in South Carolina need to be vaccinated against Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus and rabies.
Buddy and other horses in South Carolina need to be vaccinated against Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus and rabies.

South Carolina horse owners are being urged to vaccinate their horses against mosquito-borne viruses now, with the state last year having the highest number of Eastern Equine Encephalitis cases in the US.

Horses needed to be protected, said South Carolina state veterinarian Boyd Parr.

Parr recommended horse owners stayed current with their horses vaccinations for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), West Nile Virus (WNV), and also for rabies.

“South Carolina’s first 2013 case of EEE was confirmed in June,” Parr said.

“Now is an especially good time to vaccinate or give a booster on previously vaccinated horses. Vaccination is very important in our coastal counties because the majority of last year’s cases were identified there.”

In 2013, South Carolina led the country with 49 confirmed cases of EEE, which is a serious, mosquito-borne illness in horses that also can affect humans.

It is preventable by vaccination in horses. Horse owners should consult with their veterinarians to be sure vaccinations against both EEE and WNV are up to date, he said.

None of the horses infected during 2013 had been vaccinated effectively, according to a review of vaccination history.

The EEE virus is maintained in nature through a cycle involving the freshwater swamp mosquito, Culiseta melanura, commonly known as the blacktailed mosquito.

“Two to three days after becoming infected with EEE virus, a mosquito becomes capable of transmitting the virus,” said animal health program veterinarian Adam Eichelberger.

“Infected mosquitoes that feed on both birds and mammals can transmit the disease to horses and humans.”

Symptoms usually develop in horses from two to five days after exposure. Symptoms in horses include stumbling, circling, head pressing, depression or apprehension, weakness of legs, partial paralysis, the inability to stand, muscle twitching or death.

Nine out of every 10 horses infected with EEE virus die from the disease.

In South Carolina last year, 48 of the 49 of the confirmed cases died from the EEE infection.

Any livestock, including horses, that display neurologic symptoms – stumbling, circling, head pressing, depression or apprehension – must be reported to the state veterinarian at 803-788-2260 within 48 hours, according to state law.

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