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WEST NILE VIRUS After horse death, vet offers tips on prevention



Published: Sat, August 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The state Department of Agriculture has announced the first confirmed Ohio case of West Nile virus in a horse.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

HUBBARD -- Dr. Suzanne Wilcox has had her horse, Annie, since it was 2 days old.

That was in 1987. Since then, Annie has become a member of the family.

That's one reason why Wilcox, a veterinarian, understands the fear many of her clients have in response to a report that a horse in Ohio has died from West Nile virus.

The state Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that the horse, stabled in Holmes County, is the first found to be infected with the virus in Ohio.

The owner of the horse first noticed the animal had rear leg lameness July 19, according to state Agriculture Director Fred L. Dailey.

A veterinarian collected blood samples and submitted them to the Ohio Department of Agriculture's laboratory, which forwarded them to a national laboratory in Iowa for testing.

The horse, whose condition deteriorated, has been euthanized.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes and can infect birds, horses and humans. It generally causes mild flulike symptoms in humans but can lead to encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

The virus has been found in more than 100 people this year with illnesses reported in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seven people in Louisiana have died.

Wilcox, who specializes in horse care, said 48 horses across the nation have tested positive for the virus and 36 percent have died.

She said her phone has been ringing steadily since the Department of Agriculture released the information about the horse in Ohio.

"I've really kept up with this because it is a big concern for people," Wilcox said. "I want to ease people's fears and educate them."

Wilcox said horse owners should use common sense.

What to do

Remove boxes, bags, cans and stagnant water from areas where the horses are stabled. If you have a pond, drain it or add mosquito dunks that release bacteria harmful to mosquito larvae.

If you use a mosquito magnet, keep it away from the area where horses are.

Keep horses inside at dusk and dawn and use a fly spray that will also repel mosquitoes. Keep fans in barns and stables. Remove dead birds quickly.

If chickens are housed near horses, spray the area.

Watch your horse for signs of the virus that include depression or lethargy, lack of appetite, muscle weakness or twitching, stumbling or tripping, head pressing, impaired vision, an inability to stand up after a fall, and a fever.

Symptoms progress rapidly and once they are severe, a horse may convulse or die.

Veterinarians can treat symptoms but cannot treat the virus, Wilcox said. If the virus is detected early enough, she said, it is possible to curtail some of the damage.

Though there is no cure, there is a vaccine available that prevents the virus.

Wilcox said it is important that horses receive the vaccination in a series of three shots. If only one dose is given, the vaccine will not be effective.

Add the vaccine to a horse's other necessary annual vaccinations, and an owner will pay roughly $300.

Some people pay upward of $100,000 for their horses, and the emotional value of a backyard 4-H horse can be worth just as much, Wilcox said.

"To vaccinate your horses with all the regular vaccines plus the West Nile virus vaccine is a cheap insurance policy for your horse," Wilcox said. "I don't know anybody who can replace a horse for $300."




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