The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) is warming horse owners about West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis and recommending that owners be aware of the risks linked to these diseases and advises protecting horse and other domestic animals by having them vaccinated.
In addition to horses, WNV and EEE pose serious risks to other species such as pheasants, llamas, and alpacas. Since 2000, 58 Massachusetts horses have been infected with WNV and 28 with EEE. In addition, two emus, two alpacas, one llama, and one cow have also tested positive for EEE in the state since 2001.
“By vaccinating the equine population early in the season, horse owners can avoid grief down the road,” said DAR Commissioner Scott J. Soares. “Fortunately, there are effective vaccines available for horses, which are particularly vulnerable to these viruses.”
In 2010, five horses were stricken by mosquito-borne diseases, with five confirmed cases reported from the towns of Hudson, Lancaster, Middleborough, Plympton, and Warren. Only one was confirmed for WNV, the others were all positive for EEE.
Animal owners should take preventive actions and consult their veterinarian prior to the height of the mosquito season – July and August. Owners are also urged not to wait until positive cases are reported in their area, since it can take several weeks for an animal to be fully protected by a vaccine. Cats and dog are not susceptible to WNV or EEE.
“Every year there is a potential for animals to get bitten by an infected mosquito and keeping current on vaccinations is one way to keep your animals healthy,” said DAR’s Director of Animal Health Michael Cahill.
According to DAR, horses cannot spread either WNV or EEE to other animals or humans. Animals such as emus, however, develop bleeding sores when infected and can spread the virus to humans and other susceptible animals that come into contact with the infected blood. Animals infected by EEE and WNV develop neurologic symptoms that can lead to death. There is no treatment for either infection, although supportive care can be provided.
In addition to vaccination, owners should reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools – especially after heavy rains. Troughs provide excellent mosquito breeding habitat and should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near paddock areas. Horse owners should keep horses in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes.
If an animal in Massachusetts is diagnosed with WNV or EEE, owners are required to report to DAR, Division of Animal Health by calling 617-626-1795 and to the Department of Public Health (DPH) by calling 617-983-6800.