Bad Kentucky mozzie season in store, vaccinate now

May 17, 2011

Horse owners in Kentucky are being urged to vaccinate their animals against West Nile virus, with a large mosquito population predicted this year.

State agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer says a large mosquito infestation is expected in Kentucky this year after a wet spring.

Mosquitoes can carry West Nile and he wants horse owners to talk to their veterinarians about vaccination.

"Since 2003, no horses known to have been properly vaccinated have gotten West Nile in Kentucky," Farmer said.

"Kentucky had 513 equine cases of West Nile in 2002, the first full year the virus was active in Kentucky, and 137 horses died.

"Since then, vaccination has become much more common, and the number of cases of West Nile has fallen sharply."

Historically, West Nile Virus begins showing up in Kentucky horses in July. The number of cases usually increases throughout summer before peaking in mid-September.

West Nile was first identified in Kentucky's equine population in the autumn of 2001.

A total of 683 horses have been diagnosed with the disease in Kentucky in the past 10 years.

The virus mainly affects horses, humans and birds, but dogs and cats also are susceptible. It causes inflammation of the brain. About two out of every three horses that become infected survive.

Farmer recommends that property owners take action to eliminate areas of standing water, which serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Property owners are advised to:

The risk of severe illness in humans due to West Nile Virus is slight.

Young children, adults over 50, and those with weak immune systems are at greatest risk for contracting the virus.

To reduce the chance of infection, the Kentucky Department for Public Health advises people to stay indoors at dawn, early evening, and dusk if possible; wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat when outdoors; and apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picardin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.