Beware of eastern equine encephalitis

Eastern equine encephalitis

Seven horses in Massachusetts have been euthanized this month after testing positive for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), and four people have contracted the virus, one of whom has died.

Unlike humans, horses can be vaccinated against the virus — none of the horses that died in Massachusetts this year had received vaccinations. My vet is recommending that horses vaccinated before mid April this year get a booster shot this fall; horses vaccinated after mid-April should be protected. Vaccination is the best way to protect your horse.

For horse owners who cannot afford the vaccination, the MSPCA has launched an emergency clinic in the Merrimack Valley for horses whose owners cannot afford the vaccination.

MosquitoEEE is a rare, and potentially fatal, virus spread by infected mosquitos to other animals and humans. EEE originates in song birds. The most commonly infected birds include blue jay, tufted titmouse,chickadee, catbird and cardinals. The birds are carriers but do not develop the disease. Transmission of EEE from birds to horses and people can occur when mosquito populations are high.

Among people, EEE occurs most often in and around freshwater swamps and those most at risk are people under the age of 15.

EEE virus attacks the central nervous system of its host. Unvaccinated horses are particularly susceptible to the infection. The disease appears within five days after mosquitoes transmit thevirus to the horse.

Onset of clinical signs of EEE are abrupt, and affected horses die within three days. Signs of EEE in horses include fever; asleepy appearance; some muscle twitches of the head, neck, shoulder and flank; and a weak, staggering gait. Affected animals are soon down, unable to stand. There is no effective treatment. The fatality rate is 90 percent or higher. (LSU AG Center)

People should protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites. Wear long sleeves and pants, and use a repellent with DEET, permethrin, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Also try to stay away from areas of standing water and avoid being out at dawn or dusk, the time when mosquitos are the most active. The first symptoms are very similar to the flu and may include a stiff neck, headache, and lack of energy. The most dangerous, and deathly, symptom is inflammation and swelling of the brain.

Stay safe out there!

Preventing EEE
Here are some ways to help protect your horse (and yourself).

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