NY urges vaccinations for horses against West Nile virus

Posted 19 September 2018 at 8:19 am

Cases confirmed in Steuben, Suffolk, Cattaraugus and Livingston counties

Press Release, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets

Photo by Tom Rivers: 4-H riders and their horses are lined up in the show arena in Knowlesville in this photo from July 28, 2015 at the Orleans County 4-H Fair.

New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard A. Ball is encouraging horse owners in New York State to vaccinate their horses to reduce the risk of West Nile virus.

There have been four confirmed equine cases of the mosquito-borne infection in the state this year. Samples tested by Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine confirmed that horses in Steuben, Suffolk, Cattaraugus and Livingston counties were infected.

“This is the time of year when the risk of West Nile virus and other mosquito-borne diseases goes up significantly,” Ball said. “Taking simple, proactive steps to protect yourself and your animals can be extremely effective in reducing the chance of getting ill.”

Infected mosquitoes can pass West Nile virus to humans, horses and other animals, but infected horses cannot spread the disease to other animals or people.

Symptoms can resemble the flu, with horses appearing mildly anorexic and depressed. Horses can also experience fine and coarse muscle and skin twitching, fever, hypersensitivity to touch and sound, and mental changes. Other signs can include drowsiness, weakness on one side, an unsteady gait, an inability to rise and a loss of control of body movements.

Horses exhibiting signs of West Nile virus should be immediately examined by a veterinarian and reported to the State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the local health department. Horse owners should also consult their veterinarians about vaccinations against West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, as well as other easily prevented horse diseases. If the horse travels to warmer parts of the country, the Department’s veterinarians recommend that horse owners discuss whether their animals may need two vaccinations a year to provide ample coverage.

Horse owners should also remove stagnant water sources to reduce mosquito populations and breeding areas. If possible, animals should be kept inside early in the morning and evening, when mosquitoes feed.

Twelve cases of West Nile virus have been reported in humans this year. Most people do not experience signs or symptoms but some develop flu-like symptoms, swollen glands and a rash. Less than 1 in 150 experience serious symptoms, which are usually sudden and can include a high fever, stiff neck, altered mental status, convulsions, tremors, paralysis, inflammation of the brain or membranes of the brain and spinal cord or coma.

There is no vaccine for humans. People can take precautions by using repellants and larvicides, eliminating standing water, installing window and door screens, removing debris and vegetation near ponds and keeping pools and hot tubs clean and chlorinated.

“The most effective way to reduce the spread of West Nile Virus in our state is for all New Yorkers to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their animals from mosquito bites,” said New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker. “Earlier this summer, the Governor directed the Department of Health to launch an aggressive mosquito-borne disease plan, and we continue to work with our local partners to reduce public health risks.”

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