Lowndes County, Georgia, Horse Contracts EEE

Lowndes County, Georgia, Horse Contracts EEE

A viral disease, EEE affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes.

Photo: Thinkstock

South Georgia public health officials are encouraging area residents to protect themselves and their animals against mosquito-borne illnesses after a horse in Lowndes County tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) and mosquito pools have tested positive for both EEE and West Nile Virus (WNV) this season.

“While we see these types of reports each year, it’s still important for us to remember the importance of preventing mosquito bites whenever possible,” says Courtney Sheeley, public information officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health South Health District. “Mosquito borne illnesses can cause severe sickness, brain damage, or death in some cases.”

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service indicates that Georgia reported 25 equine EEE cases in 2013.

A viral disease, EEE affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes. Clinical signs of EEE include moderate to high fever, depression, lack of appetite, cranial nerve deficits (facial paralysis, tongue weakness, difficulty swallowing), behavioral changes (aggression, self-mutilation, or drowsiness), gait abnormalities, or severe central nervous system signs, such as head-pressing, circling, blindness, and seizures.

Health Alert: EEE, WEE, VEE

The course of EEE can be swift, with death occurring two to three days after onset of clinical signs despite intensive care; fatality rates reach 75-80% among horses. Horses that survive might have long-lasting impairments and neurologic problems.

Vaccinating horses against 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 reduce the chances these insects 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 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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