Posted on: 07.22.2018 at 11:00 a.m.
By Jefferson Weaver
The state’s first case of a deadly mosquito-borne illness has caused the death of a four-year-old quarter horse in Richmond County.
The state veterinarian’s office said Monday that the stallion was euthanized after contracting the first case of Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE) in North Carolina this year.
EEE is a mosquito-borne disease that is preventable in equines by vaccination. It causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord and is usually fatal. The disease killed a pony in Bladen County last year as well as a horse in Brunswick County. Due to the unusually high mosquito count last year, the disease was more widespread than normal. A total of six equines were confirmed killed by EEE in 2016.
Symptoms 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.
“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” said State Veterinarian Doug Meckes. “It is imperative that horse owners keep their vaccines current. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating them as soon as possible against EEE and West Nile virus.”
The vaccinations initially require two shots, 30 days apart, for horses, mules and donkeys that have no prior vaccination history. Meckes recommends a booster shot every six months in North Carolina because of the state’s prolonged mosquito season.
People, horses and birds can become infected from a bite by a mosquito carrying the diseases, but there is no evidence that horses can transmit the viruses to other horses, birds or people through direct contact. Human EEE cases are rare, according to the Department of Agriculture, with one in three cases being fatal.
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 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.
Wet weather and mild temperatures increased survival rates of mosquitoes of all types this year. Stagnant water in flower pots, tires, pet dishes, livestock troughs, etc. should be emptied at every opportunity to reduce the number of areas mosquitoes can breed.
Livestock Agent Phyllis Creech-Greene of the Extension Service said EEE is a serious concern in the Columbus County equine community, due to the mosquito-friendly nature of the local environment. She encouraged all horse, donkey and mule owners to make sure their animals are up to date on their vaccinations.
“This is a preventable disease,” she said. “Get your horses vaccinated for EEE, especially the young ones. I know funds can be tight at times but this is one vaccine you shouldn’t neglect.
“Your luck will run out one day and the one that suffers is the horse.”