May 29, 2003

Horse Owners Urged to Vaccinate Against West Nile Virus

With summer barbecues and outings, come pesky mosquitoes that can leave more than just an itch on the skin. In recent years mosquitoes have been a cause for concern because they can spread West Nile virus to humans and animals, especially horses.

Because of this concern, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Foundation (MVMF) is urging equine enthusiasts to vaccinate their horses for the virus.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had given its approval to the use of a vaccine to combat the disease in horses. State animal health officials are urging horse owners to take advantage of its recent availability.

"With the mosquito season upon us, it is very important that horse owners and handlers in Missouri properly vacci-nate animals immediately to combat the threat of West Nile virus," noted Dr. Greg Popp, owner of Weathered Rock Veterinary Clinic in Jefferson City. "Hot Missouri summers, coupled with heavy rains that the state has experienced this spring, could possibly lead to even more West Nile virus cases than last year."

Dr. Taylor Woods, state veterinarian and director of the state's Division of Animal Health, noted that this was a good time for horse owners to contact their veterinarians about vaccinating their animals to protect against the West Nile virus. 'It is critical that horses receive the vaccine before mosquito season starts," Woods said.

Dr. Woods also noted that if a horse was not vaccinated last year, or received only one shot, it will need two shots administered within six weeks of each other this year. Proper vaccination last year requires only one booster shot this year.

According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, studies show that 95 percent of properly vaccinated horses avoid illness if exposed to the virus, while more than 80 percent of unvaccinated horses develop an infection. The majority of horses make a full recovery with proper treatment, however, fatalities still occur in 30-40 percent of horses that contract the disease.

West Nile virus begins its cycle with mosquitoes feeding on infected birds. The mosquitoes then spread the disease by biting humans, horses or other animals.

The virus causes brain inflammation. In infected horses, symptoms for the virus includes listlessness, stumbling, weakness in limbs and partial paralysis.

According to the state veterinarian's office, 917 cases of West Nile virus were reported statewide.

The following are mosquito control tips from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Remove sources of stagnant water, such as containers and old tires, and modify low-lying areas where mosquitoes might breed.

Spray horse stables with mosquito insecticide.

Use fans in horse stables to circulate air and reduce the likelihood of mosquitoes feeding on horses.

If possible, keep horses stabled at night.

Clean water toughs as often as possible or at least once a month.

The Missouri Veterinary Medical Foundation supports the charitable and educational purposes and activities of the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association. The Foundation focuses on public education and animal welfare issues to further the health of animals in Missouri.

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