Florida Officials Urge Caution As EEE Cases Reach Epidemic Proportions

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson is concerned about the high number of Eastern Equine encephalitis (EEE) cases in the state and is urging horse owners to get the proper immunizations for their animals against EEE as well as West Nile virus (WNV).

So far this year, 158 horses in 42 counties have been diagnosed with EEE (as of July 11) compared with 25 cases last year. Very few of the horses had been appropriately vaccinated and most have died of the disease. State veterinarians say horses in Florida need to be vaccinated two to three times a year because of the potential for exposure to the mosquito borne disease year round.

Eastern equine encephalitis is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system of people and horses. It is spread by mosquitoes, which transmit the disease from infected birds. Transmission of the disease from horse to horse or from horse to humans is highly unlikely. The mortality rate for infected horses is 50 to 90 percent. Vaccinating horses properly will prevent them from contracting the disease.

Signs of the disease in horses include fever, impaired vision, irregular gait, reduced reflexes, inability to swallow, occasional convulsions and death. The disease is most commonly detected in horses in Florida from April to August.

"It is distressing to see the numbers of horses contracting this disease, especially when there is a vaccine readily available," Bronson said. "While it isn't a cure-all, the vaccine and other preventive measures can help prevent these numbers from climbing even further."

Residents of and visitors to Florida are encouraged to take a number of steps to protect themselves against mosquitoes. Recommendations include avoiding outdoor activities at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, wearing long sleeves and long pants when it is necessary to be outside during those hours and using an insect repellent while outside. Certain types of mosquitoes are active biters during the day, so precautions should always be taken to prevent bites. Residents are also encouraged to remove standing water from their property, as stagnant water is an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Additionally, information on these arboviruses can be found at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' web site, http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/ai/ai.html/, or by calling 850/410-0900. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission maintains a web site for reporting wild bird die offs related to WNV. To report a suspected case, visit: http://wld.fwc.state.fl.us/bird.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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