Ward Off West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus is a serious disease that can have deadly consequences if horses are not vaccinated. WNV is now considered one of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) core vaccines, meaning that the vaccination should be given to any horse regardless of where they geographically live or if they travel from their home farm. Though this vaccine is considered imperative for horse health, there were still 363 cases of WNV in 41 states in 2018—most of which were preventable.

West Nile first arrived on United States soil in 1999 and rapidly spread to all 48 contiguous states. Wild birds are reservoirs of the disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. A mosquito that bites the bird with West Nile that then bites a horse can transmit WNV; once the virus crosses the blood-brain barrier, it can damage the brain and spinal cord, reports The Horse.

Horses with WNV may show neurologic signs like incoordination and stumbling; muscle twitching; and fever. The horse may also become depressed or overly excited. Not all infected horses show signs of the disease, but in severe cases the horse may die.

Diagnosis is made using clinic signs and a blood test that measures igG antibody levels. There is no specific treatment for horses that develop West Nile; horses are generally given pain killers, anti-inflammatories and fluids. Many horses recover partially or fully, but horses that become recumbent are often euthanized.

The WNV vaccine is available both as a recombinant and a killed form; an initial two-dose series is given four to six weeks apart, then boosters are given annually. Though the vaccines provide protection for up to 12 months, horses in Southern states where mosquitoes are active year-round typically received WNV boosters every six months. Horses should receive their annual booster about one month before mosquito season begins.

While vaccination is one key component of preventing WNV, there are other strategies that can be put in place to reduce the chance of horses contracting the disease. These include:

  • Eliminate standing water
  • Use fly spray that contains a pyrethrin on horses
  • Remove birds

Read more at The Horse.

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