TALLAHASSEE – Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson says two cases of West Nile Virus have now been detected in horses in the state and the number of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) cases continues to rise. Bronson is reminding horse owners to get the animals vaccinated. He is also urging the public to follow Florida Department of Health guidelines to help prevent mosquito borne illnesses in people. DOH is reporting that two people in Florida have died after contracting EEE this summer. Mosquitoes carry the viruses and can transmit it to horses and humans, however, horses do not transmit the viruses to people.
The West Nile cases affected horses in Jefferson and Osceola counties. There are also now 60 reported cases of EEE in horses in several dozen counties in Florida this year, including southern counties such as Miami-Dade, Okeechobee and Collier where EEE cases are much less frequent.
EEE and West Nile are viral diseases that affect the central nervous system and are transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes. Signs of the viruses include fever, listlessness, stumbling, circling, coma and usually death. EEE is fatal in horses in 90 percent of the cases. West Nile virus has a mortality rate in horses of about 30 percent. Studies show that in horses that do recover, anywhere from 20-40 percent show residual effects even after six months.
Bronson says there are vaccinations for both diseases but horse owners need to be diligent in not only getting their animals vaccinated, but also ensuring the vaccinations are kept up to date each year and booster shots are given.
“In the vast majority of cases we have seen this year, the horses either had no vaccinations at all or they were not current,” Bronson said. “We are seeing increases in mosquito populations and since mosquitoes are the carriers of both these diseases, it’s likely the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. I can’t stress enough the need for people to get these readily available vaccinations for their horses.”
While the incidence of EEE and West Nile is down in horses from what the state experienced earlier this decade, the cases continue to rise in 2010.