A low-cost vaccination may have prevented the deaths of six equine that died after contracting Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis, according to state veterinary officials. A seventh animal appears to be recovering from the disease.
State Veterinarian David Marshall recommends that equine owners talk to their veterinarians about an effective vaccination protocol to protect horses from EEE and another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus. The EEE and WNV vaccinations typically require two initial doses for horses, mules and donkeys that have no prior vaccination history. Marshall recommends a booster shot every six months.
All of the reported cases have been in the southeastern part of the state – one each in Pender and Brunswick counties and five in Cumberland County. But Marshall cautions that it is important for horse owners across the state to remain on alert.
“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” he said. “Mosquito-borne diseases peak in late summer and fall. The state has had a very wet summer, and that may play a role in heavier mosquito activity.”
EEE causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord and is usually fatal. Mosquitoes can also spread the disease to humans. In equine, symptoms of EEE include impaired vision, aimless wandering, head pressing, circling, inability to swallow, irregular staggering gait, paralysis, convulsions and death. Once a horse has been bitten by an infected mosquito, it may take three to 10 days for signs of the disease to appear.
No cases of WNV have been reported so far this year, but activity has been present in several surrounding states. Marshall also reminds veterinarians that both EEE and WNV are reportable diseases to his office. Any of the state’s four veterinary diagnostic labs are equipped to confirm the diagnosis.
Mosquitoes can breed in any puddle that lasts for more than four days, so removing any source of standing water can reduce the chance of exposing animals and humans to WNV or EEE. Keeping horses in stalls at night, using insect screens and fans and turning off lights after dusk can also help reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Insect repellants can be effective if used according to manufacturers’ instructions.