EEE in Alabama Horses and Humans

Seven cases of Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) were confirmed recently in southwestern Alabama. The disease has also infected two people, one of whom did not survive. The Alabama Department of Public Health has recommended the public reduce exposure to mosquitoes, which are thriving due to the copious amounts of standing water left by Hurricane Dennis.

Five of the equine cases were found in Baldwin County (the most recent on July 6), one in Escambia County (June 21), and one in Mobile County (June 11). The person who died from EEE was an Escambia resident, and the recovering individual lives in Baldwin.

Alabama's first EEE case of 2005 was confirmed in a Lowndes County horse in January. Officials sometimes see encephalitis cases throughout the winter since southern Alabama doesn't always get cold enough to kill off mosquitoes that spread viruses such as EEE and West Nile virus (WNV).

According to associate state public health veterinarian John Kelliher, DVM, all of the 2005 EEE cases probably were fatal. He says the state receives many more post-mortem encephalitis submissions to its veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Auburn than samples from live horses.

Statistically, more than 90% of unvaccinated horses that contract EEE do not survive. Horse owners can protect horses against the disease with vaccination.

"We're recommending that horse owners consult with their veterinarians on vaccination," says Kelliher. "Certainly some of our equine practitioners are recommending two-times-per-year vaccination. It would depend on their professional experience in a particular locale. Certainly the issues in north Alabama are very different than south Alabama."

The state hasn't seen much WNV this year--two equine cases were confirmed in Alabama in May, both in St. Clair County.

Alabama isn't the only state experiencing EEE. As of July 27, Florida had tallied 119 equine cases.

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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