EEE Is Suspected In Louisiana

As of May 21, eastern equine encephalitis has been noted as the probable cause of the deaths of two horses in Louisiana, one in St. James Parish and the other in Lafourche Parish, according to Bob Odom, Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry.

Seven probable cases of the disease, often called sleeping sickness, have been reported to the state veterinarian in the last two weeks. The infected horses are in Lafourche and St. James Parishes, with the exception of one case reported in St. Mary Parish.

Since there is no cure for sleeping sickness, Odom is urging horse owners to vaccinate their animals in order to prevent the disease. "Sleeping sickness is a very preventable disease, but often horse owners wait until it's too late. Now is the time to have horses vaccinated before we get too far into summer and true mosquito season," Odom said.

Humans can contract the illness, but not through horses. A mosquito must bite an infected bird and then bite a human for the disease to spread, according to Department of Agriculture and Forestry State Veterinarian Dr. Maxwell Lea.

"Because of the remote possibility of human infection, our office has been in contact with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the mosquito control agency," Odom said. "Everyone is aware of the situation and the appropriate steps are being taken to cut down on the spread of this disease."

Horses that have not been vaccinated should have two doses administered three to four weeks apart, Lea said. Once the initial vaccination has been given, an annual booster is sufficient to maintain immunity.

Lea said this particular strain of sleeping sickness is progressing more rapidly than normal. "It usually takes two to three days from the appearance of symptoms to the time the horse can no longer stand. These horses are deteriorating in a matter of 12 to 36 hours, and it's happening earlier in the season."

"Normally we see it a little bit later in the summer and into early fall. This has not been a particularly wet spring which normally would cause the mosquito population to be higher, but we still have these cases."

Sleeping sickness causes damage to the central nervous system and is almost always fatal in horses. Once infected, horses generally run a very high temperature, about 106-107 degrees with the normal temperature being 100 degrees. They also become depressed and uncoordinated, develop a sleepy appearance, walk in circles and eventually collapse to the ground.

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