WNV Identified in Georgia Horse

The Georgia Department of Public Health yesterday (Oct. 17) confirmed a case of West Nile virus (WNV) in a horse residing in Ben Hill County. This is the third case of a mosquito-borne illness in a horse in South Health District this year.

Public health officials are continuing to encourage anyone outdoors to use all precautions to protect against mosquito bites. "As the weather cools off, we will start seeing less and less mosquito activity; however, this positive case of West Nile Virus proves that activity is still out in our area," states William Grow, MD, FACP, District Health Director.

Clinical signs for WNV include flulike signs, where the horse seems mildly anorexic and depressed; fine and coarse muscle and skin fasciculations (twitching); hyperesthesia; changes in mentation (mentality), when horses look like they are daydreaming or "just not with it"; occasional somnolence (drowsiness); propulsive walking (driving or pushing forward, often without control); and "spinal" signs, including asymmetrical weakness. Some horses show asymmetrical or symmetrical ataxia (incoordination on one or both sides, respectively). Equine mortality rate can be as high as 30-40%.

Vaccinating horses against WNV and EEE coupled with mosquito control are the most important ways to minimize an animal's chances of becoming infected. In the northern regions of the United States, most veterinarians recommend vaccinating horses in the spring prior to peak mosquito levels. In the south, where mosquito populations are present year-round, veterinarians might recommend more frequent vaccination.

Minimizing mosquito populations near your horses by eliminating mosquito breeding and resting areas will make it more difficult for the insects to bite and infect horses and the people who care for them.

For example, reduce or eliminate sources of stagnant or standing water, remove muck from areas near the horses, stable horses during peak mosquito periods (i.e., dawn and dusk), use equine-approved mosquito repellants, place fans inside the barns or stalls to maintain air movement, keep weeds and grass trimmed, and avoid using incandescent bulbs inside stables at night. Instead, place incandescent bulbs away from the stables to attract mosquitoes to areas away from horses.

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