State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today urged horse owners across New York State to vaccinate their horses against Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV). This is especially important since parts of New York have mosquito activity into late November. In 2014, New York has already seen six cases of EEE found in horses in Madison, Wayne, Oneida and Oswego counties. The Department of Agriculture and Markets has made veterinarians across the state aware of these confirmed cases of EEE. No cases of West Nile Virus have been reported in horses in New York State in 2014.
“A simple vaccination can go a long way toward protecting horses against mosquito-borne diseases,” said Commissioner Ball. “If you’re a horse owner and your horse is in need of a vaccination, I encourage you to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.”
Humans cannot become infected by handling or being exposed to an infected horse. Horses cannot spread either virus to or from other horses, people or pets. From a veterinary perspective, mosquitoes transmit both diseases from birds to horses.
Typical symptoms of EEE in equines include staggering, circling, depression, loss of appetite and sometimes fever and blindness. Clinical signs of WNV in horses include lethargy, weakness in the hind quarters, stumbling, lack of awareness, head tilt and head twitching, convulsions, circling, partial paralysis and coma.
The State Department of Agriculture and Markets works closely with local health departments, as well as the State Health Department when incidents of EEE and WNV occur.
Horses suffering from neurologic problems must always be handled with extreme caution, since they may be unpredictable and there is also the possibility that Rabies may be the cause.
Vaccines are available to drastically reduce the incidence of EEE and WNV in horses. The vaccines can be effective for six to twelve months and horses should be re-vaccinated at least annually. In an area where the diseases occur year round, many veterinarians recommend vaccinations every six months. For the vaccine to be effective, it must be handled and administered properly, prior to an anticipated increase in mosquito activity in a local area.
Other prevention methods include eliminating standing water breeding sites for mosquitoes, using insect repellents and removing animals from mosquito-infested areas during peak biting times, usually from dusk to dawn.
Scott Palmer, New York’s Equine Medical Director, said, “The virulence of EEE and WNV is high and the prognosis for successful treatment is poor, with a high chance for fatality or neurologic complications. For these reasons prevention is key. As the New York State Equine Medical Director, I enthusiastically support Commissioner Ball’s recommendations for vaccination of all horses in New York for these dangerous and preventable diseases.”
There is no human vaccine for EEE or West Nile Virus. Humans should reduce contact with mosquitoes. Wearing protective clothing and insect repellents, and avoiding the outdoors during dawn and dusk are all ways to avoid mosquito bites.
“Taking a few basic precautions provides New Yorkers the best defense against mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus and EEE,” New York State Department of Health Acting Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. “In addition to wearing shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when outdoors for long periods of time, individuals should remove all standing water from their property and apply appropriate mosquito repellent. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on repellent use.”
Horses exhibiting neurologic signs, like those listed above, need to be promptly reported by veterinarians to the State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Division of Animal Industry at (518) 457-3502 in addition to their local health department.