North Carolina Horse Owners: Vaccinate Against EEE

North Carolina Horse Owners: Vaccinate Against EEE

Meckes recommends a vaccine booster shot every six months for North Carolina horses.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

North Carolina’s Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is encouraging horse owners in that state to have their animals vaccinated against Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE).

“Triple E is a mosquito-borne disease that causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord in equine and is usually fatal,” Troxler said. “The disease is preventable by vaccination.”

There were nine recorded cases of EEE in horses in North Carolina in 2016, but the mild winter could cause that number to increase this year, said State Veterinarian Doug Meckes, DVM.

A viral disease, EEE affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes. Clinical signs of EEE include moderate to high fever, depression, lack of appetite, cranial nerve deficits (facial paralysis, tongue weakness, difficulty swallowing), behavioral changes (aggression, self-mutilation, or drowsiness), gait abnormalities, or severe central nervous system signs, such as head-pressing, circling, blindness, and seizures. The course of EEE can be swift, with death occurring two to three days after onset of clinical signs despite intensive care. Horses that survive might have long-lasting impairments and neurologic problems.

“If your horses or other equine animals exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” Meckes said.

Meckes also recommends that owners consult their veterinarians about an effective vaccination protocol to protect horses from EEE and another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus. Previously vaccinated horses will need a booster shot at least annually. However, if an owner did not vaccinate their animal in previous years, the horse will need the two-shot vaccination series within a three- to six-week period. Meckes recommends a booster shot every six months for North Carolina horses.

In addition to vaccinations, horse owners also need to reduce the mosquito populations and their possible breeding areas. Recommendations include removing stagnant water sources, keeping animals inside during the bugs’ feeding times, which are typically early in the morning and evening, and using mosquito repellents

People, equids, and birds can become infected from a bite by a mosquito carrying the diseases, but there is no evidence that horses can transmit the viruses to other horses, birds, or people through direct contact.

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