Darrel J. Aubertine, state agriculture commissioner, is asking horse owners across New York state to vaccinate their horses against Eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.
The vaccinations are important since parts of New York have mosquito activity into late November. Aubertine is reminding horse owners to vaccinate against these diseases due to recent cases of EEE found in horses in St. Lawrence and Westchester counties, along with a case of West Nile virus found in a horse in Saratoga County. The Department of Agriculture and Markets has made veterinarians across the state aware of these confirmed cases.
"While these diseases can be fatal among horses, they are also largely preventable," Aubertine said. "I encourage all horse owners in the state to act responsibly and make sure your horses receive proper vaccinations. If you have questions about equine vaccinations and the health of your horse, contact your local veterinarian immediately."
Humans cannot become infected by handling or being exposed to an infected horse. Horses cannot spread either virus to or from other horses, people or pets. From a veterinary perspective, mosquitoes transmit both diseases from birds to horses.
Typical symptoms of EEE in equines include staggering, circling, depression, loss of appetite and sometimes fever and blindness. Clinical signs of West Nile virus in horses include lethargy, weakness in the hind quarters, stumbling, lack of awareness, head tilt and head twitching, convulsions, circling, partial paralysis and coma.
Horses exhibiting neurologic signs, like those listed above, need to be promptly reported by veterinarians to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets' Division of Animal Industry at 518-457-3502 in addition to their local health department. The state Department of Agriculture and Markets has been working closely with local health departments on the three confirmed cases this year.
Horses suffering from neurologic problems must always be handled with extreme caution, since they may be unpredictable and there is also the possibility that rabies may be the cause.
Vaccines are available to drastically reduce the incidence of eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus in horses. The vaccines can be effective for six to 12 months and horses should be re-vaccinated at least annually. In an area where the diseases occur year-round, many veterinarians recommend vaccinations every six months. For the vaccine to be effective, it must be handled and administered properly, prior to an anticipated increase in mosquito activity in a local area.
Other prevention methods include eliminating standing water breeding sites for mosquitoes, using insect repellents and removing animals from mosquito-infested areas during peak biting times, usually from dusk to dawn. There is no human vaccine for eastern equine encephalitis or West Nile virus. Humans should reduce contact with mosquitoes. Wearing protective clothing and insect repellents, and avoiding the outdoors during dawn and dusk are all ways to avoid mosquito bites.
"All New Yorkers should be aware that mosquito-borne diseases may be present in their area and take appropriate steps to prevent potential infection through mosquito bites," said Dr. Nirav R. Shah, state health commissioner.
For more information, visit agriculture.ny.gov/AI/equine/equine.html#3.