Utah Horse Owners Advised to Take Precautions against WNV

Utah Horse Owners Advised to Take Precautions against WNV

Horse owners are advised to check with their veterinarian to assure their horse’s vaccination status is current.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food strongly advises horse owners throughout the state to protect their animals by vaccinating them against West Nile virus (WNV) if they haven’t already done so.

Veterinarians in Colorado report the first confirmed equine WNV case of the year in that state earlier this month, and mosquitoes carrying the virus have been discovered in stagnant bodies of water in Utah's Box Elder, Uintah, and Washington counties thus far this year. No human or animal WNV cases have been reported by the Utah Department of Health or Department of Agriculture and Food yet this year.

Horse owners can protect their animals by applying approved repellants to the animals and by controlling mosquitoes and mosquito breeding areas. Horse owners can also protect the animals by putting them in barns or other enclosed structures.

Horse owners are advised to check with their veterinarian to assure their horse’s vaccination status is current. If horses have not been vaccinated, owners are encouraged to contact their veterinarian and have their horses vaccinated (though vaccination after exposure might not protect the horse against the disease). The equine vaccine requires two doses and takes approximately five weeks to offer protection from the disease. Once a horse is appropriately vaccinated, yearly booster shots are necessary.

Clinical signs for WNV in horses include flulike signs, where the horse seems mildly anorexic and depressed; fine and coarse muscle and skin fasciculations (twitching); hyperesthesia (hypersensitivity to touch and sound); changes in mentation (mentality), when horses look like they are daydreaming or "just not with it"; occasional somnolence (drowsiness); propulsive walking (driving or pushing forward, often without control); and "spinal" signs, including asymmetrical weakness. Some horses show asymmetrical or symmetrical ataxia. Equine mortality rate can be as high as 30-40%.

Horse owners who suspect WNV infection of their animal should contact their veterinarian immediately. In Utah, 80% of WNV in horses occurs in August and September.

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