Horse Owners Encouraged to Vaccinate for West Nile Virus

A large mosquito infestation is expected in Kentucky this year after a rainy spring. Mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus (WNV), so the commonwealth's agriculture commissioner, Richie Farmer, is encouraging horse owners to talk to their veterinarians about vaccinating their horses for the virus.

The WNV vaccine has become a part of many horse owners' core annual vaccine schedule.

"Since 2003, no horses known to have been properly vaccinated have gotten West Nile in Kentucky," Farmer said. "Kentucky had 513 equine cases of West Nile in 2002--the first full year the virus was active in Kentucky--and 137 horses died. Since then, vaccination has become much more common, and the number of cases of West Nile has fallen sharply."

Historically in Kentucky, WNV starts being identified in horses in July. The number of cases usually increases throughout the summer before peaking in mid-September. WNV was first identified in Kentucky's equine population in the fall of 2001. A total of 683 horses have been diagnosed with the disease in Kentucky in the past 10 years.

West Nile virus mainly affects horses, humans, and birds, but dogs and cats also are susceptible. In horses, common clinical signs of WNV include weakness, ataxia (incoordination), fever, and muscle fasciculations. About two out of every three horses that become infected survive.

Farmer recommends that property owners take action to eliminate areas of standing water, which serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Property owners are advised to:

  • Change water at least every week in bird baths and wading pools, and more frequently in watering troughs and pet bowls;
  • Keep ponds free of vegetation and stocked with fish; and
  • Destroy or dispose of tin cans, old tires, buckets, unused plastic swimming pools, or other containers that collect and hold water.


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