Rabies Confirmed in Florida Horse

A Lee County, Fla., horse was confirmed positive for rabies last week, according to numerous published reports. A report from News-Press.com, a local news website, indicated that the horse, who resided in North Fort Myers, was the first rabies-related death of a domestic animal in Lee County in two years.

Rabies--a zoonotic disease that can be spread from animals to humans--is caused by a lyssavirus that affects the neurologic system and salivary glands. Horses are exposed most commonly through the bite of another rabid animal.

Rabies' clinical are variable and can take up to 12 weeks to appear after the initial infection. Although affected horses are sometimes asymptomatic, an infected horse can show behavioral changes such as drowsiness, depression, fear, or aggression. Once clinical signs appear, there are no treatment options.

Rabies can only be diagnosed postmortem by submitting the horse's head to a local public health laboratory to identify the rabies virus using a test called fluorescence antibody. Thus, ruling out all other potential diseases first is very important in these cases to avoid potentially unnecessary euthanasia.

Commercially available rabies vaccines are safe and extremely effective. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioner's vaccination guidelines, adult horses should be vaccinated annually and mares in foal should be vaccinated four to six weeks prepartum or before breeding. Veterinarians should administer an initial series of three vaccines to foals and weanlings younger than 12 months of age; exact timing depends on the mare's vaccination status. Thereafter, horses should be vaccinated annually.


About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, News Editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in three-day eventing with her OTTB, Dorado, and enjoys photography in her spare time.

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