WASHINGTON – West Nile Virus is blamed for the deaths of six people in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. this year, and now Virginia agriculture leaders are urging horse owners to make sure their animals have been vaccinated.
The move comes after a horse in Loudoun County contracted the disease and had to be euthanized.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said the 9-year-old Morgan gelding is the state’s first positive case of West Nile Virus in a horse in 2012.
The horse had not been vaccinated against the mosquito-borne disease for at least three years, according to Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the department. West Nile can be especially deadly to horses, killing 30 percent of those infected. For the vaccine to be effective, it must be administered properly several weeks before the horse is exposed to the virus.
Other prevention measures include eliminating standing water in which mosquitos can breed, using insect repellents and removing horses from mosquito-infested areas during the period from dusk to dawn.
But it’s not just horse owners who should be concerned. The infection of the horse in Loudoun County “indicates that the disease is present in that area, and so a mosquito could bite a human just as easily as a horse,” according to Lindholm.
And the arrival of fall doesn’t mean the end of the West Nile threat. “In Virginia, the mosquito season often runs through November, ” Lidolm says. “And last year was such a mild winter, it never really stopped.”
Currently, no drugs exist to specifically treat West Nile Virus in horses or humans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs and cats can also become infected with the virus, but rarely show serious symptoms and usually make a full recovery.