North Carolina Reports First Equine EEE Cases of 2014

North Carolina Reports First Equine EEE Cases of 2014

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

Photo: Thinkstock

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported July 6 that two horses in that state have died in the past two weeks, both after contracting Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE). They are the first reported cases of EEE in horses in North Carolina this year.

The unvaccinated horses—an 18-month-old Paint from Carteret County and a 3-year-old Quarter Horse from Bladen County—exhibited signs of generalized weakness, stumbling, depression, and inability to stand or eat. The Carteret County horse was euthanized July 21 and the Bladen County horse died Aug. 2.

North Carolina had 15 equine EEE cases in 2013.

“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” said State Veterinarian David Marshall, DVM. “Several serious contagious diseases, such as West Nile virus, equine herpes virus, and rabies, have similar symptoms and should be ruled out.”

Health Alert: EEE, WEE, VEE

A viral disease, EEE affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes. Its fatality rate in horses is 75-95%. The course of EEE can be swift, with death occurring two to three days after onset of clinical signs despite intensive care. Horses that survive might have long-lasting impairments and neurologic problems. 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.

Marshall recommends that equine owners talk to their veterinarians about an effective vaccination protocol to protect horses from EEE and another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus (WNV). The vaccinations initially require two shots, 30 days apart, for horses, mules, and donkeys that have no prior or known vaccination history. Marshall recommends a booster shot every six months.

Mosquitoes can breed in any puddle that lasts for more than four days, so removing any source of standing water can reduce the chance of exposing animals to WNV or EEE. Keeping horses in stalls at night, using insect screens and fans and turning off lights after dusk can also help reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Insect repellants can be effective if used according to manufacturers’ instructions.

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