North Carolina Horse Tests Positive for Rabies

Animal health officials in North Carolina have confirmed that a horse in Polk County tested positive for rabies last week.

Michael Neault, DVM, director of North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) Livestock Programs, Veterinary Division, told The Horse Aug. 15 that the affected horse, a 25-year-old Haflinger, was unvaccinated.

The case was confirmed by Rollins Laboratory, said R. Douglas Meckes, DVM, state veterinarian with the NCDA&CS.

Health Alert: Rabies

Rabies—a zoonotic disease that can be spread from animals to humans—is caused by a lyssavirus that affects the neurologic system and salivary glands. Horses are exposed most commonly through the bite of another rabid animal.

In horses 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 aggression. 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. Thus, ruling out all other potential diseases first is very important in these cases to avoid potentially unnecessary euthanasia.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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