The Flip Side of Summer: New York State, Florida Report First Cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis

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Just when we are getting into the swing of summer, the reality of the season catches up with us. Florida and New York are reporting their first cases of EEE for 2011. Summer is not all about fun; there is a responsibility to horses that has to be insured in order to be able to relax about one of the most serious health problems in our country.

In Florida, two horses in the panhandle region of the state were diagnosed with Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) last week, after testing turned up dozens of birds infected with the virus in the state. The next day, Marion County officials reported a horse testing positive in Summerfield, near Ocala.

According to television news station WKTV in Utica, New York, a horse in Westmoreland in Oneida County has been euthanized after contracting the disease.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) confirmed the Utica news report today, stating that 2011's first case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, also known as EEE, was in the Oneida County horse.

The nine-year-old mare had lived at her? current home for several years and had no recent travel history. The horse was unvaccinated. The other horse on the same premise is not showing any signs of EEE, and has now been vaccinated.

Typical symptoms of encephalitis in equines include staggering, circling, depression, loss of appetite and sometimes fever and blindness. There is no cure for this disease, which has high mortality rates in horses.? Humans cannot become infected by handling an infected horse, nor can a horse acquire the virus from another infected horse; however, the presence of an infected horse in the area indicates that mosquitoes carrying EEE are present and pose a threat to both humans and horses.

In a press release sent today, New York Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, Darrel J. Aubertine, reminded horse owners that West Nile Virus causes neurologic symptoms similar to EEE and is also spread by mosquitoes.? Commissioner Aubertine urges all horse owners to discuss vaccination against both diseases with their veterinarian.

New York State Veterinarian David Smith added that any horse exhibiting neurologic problems should always be handled with great caution.? The risk of physical injury to handlers is greater when horses are unsteady on their feet and also rabies needs to be ruled out as a cause of the symptoms.

Vaccines currently available drastically reduce the incidence of EEE in horses and are effective for six to twelve months, so horses should be re-vaccinated at least annually.? In an area where the disease occurs frequently, most veterinarians recommend vaccination every six months.? For the vaccine to be effective, it must be handled and administered properly and ideally given at least two weeks before the horse is exposed to the virus.

Additionally, to stimulate full immunity, horses must be vaccinated twice, about 30 days apart, the first year that the horse is vaccinated.? While it's best to have horses vaccinated well before potential exposure, vaccinating horses now will still provide protective benefits for this year's mosquito season.

Other prevention methods include destroying standing water breeding sites for mosquitoes, using insect repellents and removing animals from mosquito-infested areas during peak biting times, usually dusk to dawn.

Humans should take measures to reduce contact with mosquitoes for themselves and their horses. Wearing protective clothing and insect repellents and avoiding the outdoors during dawn and dusk are all ways to avoid mosquito bites. For more information about humans and EEE, New York residents should visit: http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/eastern_equine_encephalitis/fact_sheet.htm.

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