by Fran Jurga | 19 September 2009 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
If you turn on the news (or do you just not turn it off?), you will hear a lot about H1N1, or the "coming plague" that seems destined to hit us this fall, but the mosquitoes are having a field day on the east coast and gulf coast.
You'll hear that a man in central New York State has died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).
Randomly-trapped mosquitoes all over eastern Massachusetts have tested positive for EEE and in some towns near Cape Cod, state health authorities have raised the alert level for mosquitoes from moderate to high after discovering that mosquitoes there were infected with not one but two viruses dangerous to humans--both EEE and West Nile virus (WNV).
In Maine, 14 horses have died from EEE.
In Virginia, seven horses have died from EEE and one from WNV. Wherever you look, the story is the same. Louisiana has been hit hard as well.
Outdoor after-school activities are being canceled for children and northern New England is gearing up for the big country fair season, but public health officials are urging people to take precautions.
When I was a little girl, a family friend was bitten by a mosquito at a horse show (don't ask me how they knew exactly where the bite happened) and she became ill with EEE. It was horrible, but she did survive. My parents never allowed us to go to an event at that fairground ever again and I have never forgotten that EEE is a real risk to humans and horses.
And it's not over yet. Mosquito season can and will last until November in many areas. A frost should be coming to Maine any day now, and it will be welcome, in terms of killing the mosquitoes.
Assuming that your horses are vaccinated and you have checked to find out if fall boosters are needed or not, take the time to review the basic prevention steps with everyone who lives or works or plays on your property:
- If possible, stay inside between dusk and dark, when mosquitoes are most active.
- When outside between dusk and dark, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Use an insect repellent with DEET or Picaridin according to manufacturer's directions when outside. Oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 have been found to provide protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.
- Put screens on windows and make sure they do not have holes.
- Eliminate standing water and other mosquito breeding locations from your property. Do not alter natural water bodies.
(Tips provided by the state of New Hampshire)
And what about our own flu shot? The fall and early winter are great times for riding, plus there are so many year-end shows and events to attend -- don't miss any of it if you can help it! Find out about both "regular" flu and H1N1 innoculations and what your risk factors are. And if you get sick, stay home.
Which do I fear? EEE, no doubt about that. What do I dread? H1N1, because even if it doesn't happen, it will disrupt our lives in some way and have more of a direct effect. But those of us who are outside and/or live near mosquito-invested zones have to take the warnings seriously.
It's a matter of life and death, for humans and horses.
Are you around horses that haven't been vaccinated? A lot of people opted to save money this spring and skipped EEE, especially in areas where the disease hasn't been a problem. That's what happened in Maine. Be sure you know what the symptoms are.
Click here to read a Maine veterinarian's description of the symptoms in the first case of EEE in her county.
And please don't stay home from the fairs, unless you are at high risk for complications of the flu. Country fairs are vital to regional economies and one of the last great ways to get out and connect with rural traditions and your agricultural friends and neighbors. Please support them...just make sure you have some repellent handy, cover up, and wash your hands a lot.
See you there!
UPDATE: Since this post was originally written, the first case of EEE ever reported in Maritime Canada has resulted in the death of a horse in Nova Scotia.