As summer nears and warm weather becomes the norm, it paves the way for insects, and for the animal diseases that insects help spread.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture is currently warning horse owners to be on guard against mosquitoes, and for the West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE) that mosquitoes can transmit.
"Many insects, including mosquitoes, are likely to become active with the early warm weather we've experienced," says WV Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass. "The most important thing farmers can do is to eliminate standing water around barns and other places where animals gather and mosquitoes breed. Eliminating old tires or poorly draining areas can go a long way toward protecting your horses."
Douglass notes that by acting now, before vegetation becomes too thick in summer, it is easier to spot potential problem areas and correct them before mosquito populations expand. He is recommending horse owners to contact local veterinarians about getting their horses vaccinated against the diseases, both WNV and EEE.
Although not always fatal, the disease is particularly virulent in horses, notes Douglass and WVDA. There are currently not any drugs to treat WNV and EEE specifically in horses. Treatment for horses consists of supportive therapy to prevent the animal from injuring itself throughout the two to three weeks of the disease.
The diseases are uncommon in humans but can affect people, causing serious illness due to inflammation in the brain, spinal cord or nerves.
For horses the WNV and EEE vaccines requires two initial doses administered three to six weeks apart. The vaccine takes four to six weeks from the second dose for optimal effectiveness.
"Horse owners should consult with their veterinarians to choose a revaccination schedule to protect their horses effectively," says WV State Veterinarian Jewell Plumley.
It is recommended that if horses are vaccinated in the spring, a late summer booster should be administered for optimum protection.
If you are a horse owner be on the lookout for symptoms such as a stumbling gait, facial paralysis, drooping demeanor or disinterest in surroundings. There are live-animal tests for WNV and EEE in horses and chickens but there are no such tests for other animals.