Rabies Found in Georgia Horse; Six People Exposed to Virus

Six people in Georgia are receiving medical treatment after being exposed to a horse determined to have contracted rabies.

North Georgia Health District Public Information Officer Jennifer King said that on June 9 the horse's owners noticed the animal had stopped eating and began exhibiting signs of illness. The animal's owners subsequently had the horse examined by a veterinarian. University of Georgia veterinarians later determined the horse had contracted rabies, King said. Under Georgia state medical record disclosure statutes, University of Georgia spokeswoman Kat Gilmore was unable to comment on what became of the horse.

On June 20, Georgia health officials announced that six people who had contact with the horse's mucus or saliva were receiving post-exposure treatment for rabies, King said. Meanwhile, horses and cattle that were residing in the same pasture with the horse are being vaccinated for rabies and remain under veterinary observation for the next six months, King said.

King said public health officials did not know how the horse became infected with rabies. However, the animal likely contracted the disease after contact with an infected wild animal such as a raccoon, fox, skunk, bat, coyote, or bobcat, she said.

Rabies is caused by a lyssavirus affecting the neurologic system and salivary glands. Clinical signs of rabies are variable and can take up to 12 weeks to appear after the initial infection. Although affected horses are sometimes asymptomatic, an infected horse can show behavioral changes, such as drowsiness, depression, fear, or aggressiveness. Once clinical signs appear, there are no treatment options.

Rabies can only be diagnosed postmortem by submitting the horse's head to a local public health laboratory to identify the rabies virus using a test called fluorescence antibody.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) advises that all horses receive rabies vaccinations annually. AAEP vaccination guidelines recommend that adult horses receive an initial single-dose and a booster vaccination annually; foals born to vaccinated mares should receive a first dose of vaccine no earlier than at six month of age and a second dose four to six weeks later followed by annual vaccination; and foals of mares not vaccinated against rabies should receive a first dose of vaccine at three or four months of age, and should be revaccinated annually.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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