Disease Alert: Earlier-than-Usual Mosquito-Borne Viruses Strike Horses from Florida to Colorado

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The Jurga Report has collected news from seven states where mosquito-borne diseases have infected horses, even though vaccines are available to prevent them in horses. Please read this rundown of the states affected (so far) and watch the videos so you will be able to recognize the signs if you are around an unvaccinated and infected horse.

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Summer's here.

Summer's the season when horseowners can relate to the famous opening lines of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities when he wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

Summer's here but it's too hot to ride. Or gas (and everything else) is too expensive. There are too many bugs. The trails are closed because of fire danger. Your truck overheated.

But when you do get out on the trail or to a show, summer kicks in and life is like it's supposed to be.

But now, three weeks into July, the news is laden with disease alerts of critical importance to horse owners. The mosquito-borne diseases Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV) are showing up not just in mosquito counts, but in horses actually affected by--and even dead from--this pair of serious equine diseases.

These are the two diseases with that most sobering post script: both EEE and WNV can infect people as well.

But there's a big difference there: horses can be protected with vaccines against the diseases. Humans can't.

Let's take the states in alphabetical order--and be sure to check back soon and often for more alerts.

Alabama

Agriculture & Industries Commissioner John McMillan has officially announced that, since?June, several positive?cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) have been found in Alabama in birds and horses. The horses were in Mobile and?Washington Counties.

Colorado

As if Colorado doesn't have enough bad news with forest fires and a mass murder, the state can add West Nile Virus to its list. On Friday, the state announced that two horses in Colorado had tested positive for WNV. These are the state's first cases this year.

According to Colorado State Veterinarian, Dr. Keith Roehr, the two WNV positive tests were submitted from horses in Fremont and Weld counties; both horses are currently being treated.

Roehr noted that there have been very few reported equine cases of WNV in Colorado in recent years. "It is difficult to project how many WNV cases we may see in the coming months," he said in a press statement. "Even though the number of infected horses has dramatically reduced in the past few years, it is still important to protect your horse through vaccination and good management practices."

More information: Colorado Department of Agriculture

Florida

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On June 6, The Jurga Report supplied an exclusive interview with Dr. Mike Short, Equine Program Manager for the State of Florida Veterinary Office,?on the surprising appearance of EEE in Wellington, Florida and the death of a horse in that town.

In that interview, Dr. Short assured readers that there would be more cases of EEE in Florida coming and he was right: the Panhandle section of that state is now reporting at least five cases of?EEE.

An adult human has also been diagnosed with EEE in that part of Florida.

Georgia

Several news outlets, including WALB-TV, are reporting that the state Department of Public Health has warned of EEE in Georgia, and that four horses have tested positive in the southern part of the state.

Louisiana

In case you think the problem is regional, think again: So far this year, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry's (LDAF) Office of Veterinary Health is reporting eight WNV and 10 EEE cases in horses--so far.

Ten cases of WNV have been reported in humans so far this year, according to LDAF.

North Carolina

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In North Carolina, two Quarter horses have been euthanized this month after contracting EEE, according to an announcement from State Veterinarian David Marshall.

The unvaccinated horses, a two-year-old Robeson County mare and a seven-year-old stallion from Bladen County, exhibited signs of generalized weakness, stumbling, depression and inability to stand or eat, according to the report..

They are the first reported cases of EEE in horses this year; cases are usually seen later in the summer.

Marshall's report states that in Robeson County, the horse deteriorated so quickly that it was euthanized within 24 hours of first exhibiting symptoms. The Bladen County horse had symptoms for several weeks before being euthanized earlier this month.

The Carolina Equine Clinic in Southern Pines, North Carolina shared the video of Dixie, who was diagnosed back in June; her state of origin is not clearly stated, but her recovery from EEE is somewhat miraculous. Dixie had been vaccinated at some point in the past.

Carolina Equine Clinic noted that Dixie likely would not have fallen ill at all had she been vaccinated within the past six to twelve months. Additionally, if she had been vaccinated by a veterinarian, Dixie's veterinary bill would have been covered by the vaccine manufacturer.

South Carolina

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Reporting of the EEE virus in horses by veterinarians is not mandatory in South Carolina, so information about the problem in horses is a little harder to find.

Myrtle Beach Equine Clinic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina reported two cases of EEE in their care this summer; they shared the video of the foal with EEE and also shared news that a horse in York County (Rock Hill area) has been diagnosed with WNV.

What to do

As you can tell, EEE is creeping up the coast. It is here in Massachusetts; mosquito control programs have found EEE in samples, and are surprised to find it this early in the year. It's a big jump from North Carolina to Massachusetts, so it is likely that the virus will be found in other northeastern states as well.

How will you know when and if EEE or WNV is in your state?

The "Outbreak Alert" program, sponsored by vaccine manufacturer Merial Animal Health, will send alerts to you to let you know about all equine disease problems in your area.

Horse owners can sign up for free alerts via the program's website,?www.outbreak-alert.com. When a disease report occurs, those who have signed up for the notification and live within a 250-mile radius of where the report occurred will receive a text and/or e-mail message to alert them of the potential disease threat.

Owners who travel with their horses and want to stay abreast of disease threats in other parts of the country can enter multiple ZIP codes in the site's search field. They will then be able to receive alerts for all areas they have selected.

Many veterinary clinics and hospitals have activated alert systems for their clients; ask your veterinarian if your email address or phone number can be added to a community database, if one exists.

Each state has a department of agriculture or state veterinarian's office which may or may not post information on a Facebook page and/or web site. Every state is different, so look through your state's resources carefully to find out what programs are offered. You can also suggest starting an official warning system in your state. Your state government is the most reliable resource available to you but some states prefer to provide disease information to veterinarians, rather than to announce it to the public.

The Jurga Report and Equisearch.com work hard to keep readers informed of news alerts and disease information. We rely on state agencies to make official announcements before sharing them with readers, in most cases.

We all know that the people who work at the feed store and the farriers know what is going on in your area. Don't believe everything you hear, but keep your ears up and your horses vaccinated.