Spring has sprung early in many regions of the country. With the cherry blossoms, green grass and tulips also comes April showers and mosquitoes. In 2011, there were 65 cases of eastern equine encephalomyelitis reported in 11 states throughout the northeastern and southeastern regions, as well as mid-western regions such as Wisconsin and Michigan1. There was also one case of western equine encephalomyelitis reported in Arizona in 2011. Is your American Quarter Horse at risk of contracting one of these mosquito-borne diseases?
The risk of exposure and geographic distribution of eastern equine encephalomyelitis varies from year to year with changes in distribution of insect vectors and reservoirs important to the natural ecology of the virus.
However, unvaccinated horses may be at serious risk of contracting mosquito-borne illnesses, even in areas where the disease may not be common. Eastern equine encephalitis is considered to be endemic in all areas of North America by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and all horses should be vaccinated against it.
Symptoms in horses that have eastern equine encephalomyelitis can be varied but usually begin with fever, depression and listlessness, which then progress to more serious neurological signs such as incoordination, stumbling, circling, head pressing, coma and often death. Once the horse becomes infected with the eastern equine encephalomyelitis and develops neurological signs, the disease is fatal in roughly 90 percent of cases. There is no effective treatment, and seizures resulting in death usually occur within 48-72 hours of the horse’s first indication of illness.
Vaccinations are the most effective way to help protect horses against eastern equine encephalomyelitis and other encephalitic diseases, such as western equine encephalomyelitis and West Nile virus. According to AAEP’s vaccination guidelines, eastern equine encephalomyelitis, western equine encephalomyelitis and West Nile virus are considered core diseases for all horses, along with tetanus and rabies. For adult horses previously vaccinated against eastern equine encephalomyelitis, annual revaccination should be completed in the spring prior to mosquito season.
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Photo: Protect your horses by ensuring that they receive their spring vaccinations. Journal photo.