A rodeo horse in Logan County, Oklahoma has died after contracting rabies. According to the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC), the Quarter Horse gelding developed neurological signs the last week of April and was confirmed to have the viral disease on May 5. He was euthanized shortly after due to a worsening condition. Three additional horses on the premises who were in the same pasture as the gelding have been placed under a 6 month official quarantine to monitor for signs of illness.
Usually transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, rabies is invariably fatal—the virus ravages the equine nervous system and there is no cure. In fact, rabies has the highest mortality rate of any infectious disease—functionally 100 percent since euthanasia is the only option once signs of illness appear. And reservoirs of rabies virus continue to exist in the wild, causing periodic outbreaks of the disease that pose a risk to both wild and domesticated animals.
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The earliest stages of rabies can be confused with other diseases, particularly those with a neurological component, such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or West Nile encephalitis. Misdiagnosis is more likely to occur if the bite wound goes undetected. Within a few days, however, the rapidly spreading paralysis makes it clear something more sinister is at work.
The best way to protect your horse from rabies is through annual vaccinations. The American Association of Equine Practitioners classifies rabies as a core vaccine, which means it is recommended for all horses regardless of life stage, lifestyle or location. Currently, three licensed rabies vaccines are available for horses; all are killed-virus products administered annually to mature horses.