When it comes to equine health care, a partnership between horse owners and veterinarians is a must. Equally important is staying informed about potential disease threats that may put a horse's health at risk. That's the reason Merial launched www.outbreak-alert.com, a free program used to notify horse owners and veterinarians about reports of equine disease throughout the country.

Since June 2011, the program has provided notification of more than 500 disease reports threatening the overall health and well being of horses. As of late October 2011, those notifications included 52 cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in seven states and 69 cases of equine West Nile virus (WNV) in 20 states. Notifications of other preventable diseases such as rabies, Potomac horse fever, and equine influenza have also been shared with concerned horse owners. Cases of the highly contagious equine herpesvirus have also been reported through the program.

"I think the Outbreak Alert program is an excellent way for my clients to stay informed about diseases that might threaten the health of their horses," said Kerby Weaver, DVM, Wilhite & Frees Equine Hospital, Peculiar, Mo. "It is an especially valuable tool for horse owners who travel with their horses because they may not otherwise be aware of potential disease threats in the areas they are traveling to."

In addition to the cases reported on the website, which are visually displayed on a map of the United States, the Outbreak Alert program also offers a notification system. Those who sign up for the free service receive an email or text message when a disease is reported in a specific geographic area. Horse owners who travel may enter multiple zip codes so they can stay abreast of disease threats throughout the country.

"Horse owners want to provide the best care possible for their horses," says April Knudson, DVM, equine specialist for Merial's Large Animal Veterinary Services. "Veterinarians can use these tools to help educate their clients, strengthening the veterinarian-client relationship. Ultimately, as horse owners become even more educated about the importance of preventive care, the horses will benefit."

When considering vaccinations, horse owners should be aware of the American Association of Equine Practitioners guidelines which include recommendations for vaccinating against core diseases, including WNV, EEE, Western equine encephalitis, tetanus, and rabies. All of these diseases can have devastating effects on the short- and long-term health of horses. Of the horses diagnosed with WNV, one in three dies or must be euthanized. Horses diagnosed with EEE face as high as a 90% mortality rate, and rabies is nearly always a death sentence to a horse.

Veterinarians and horse owners can sign up for the service by visiting www.outbreak-alert.com and clicking the "register" button in the top right corner.

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