A Richmond County quarterhorse stallion has been put down after contracting mosquito-borne Eastern equine encephalomyelitis, the state Agriculture Department reports — with the death marking the first and, potentially, only case in North Carolina this year.
The department would give no specifics about the horse — either its owner or where in the county the horse lived — but a spokeswoman did say Tuesday that the death was recent. The department also said such deaths could be prevented if owners made sure their horses, mules and donkeys were vaccinated.
“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” said State Veterinarian Doug Meckes. “It is imperative that horse owners keep their vaccines current, (and) talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating them as soon as possible against EEE and West Nile virus.”
The vaccination against EEE initially requires two shots 30 days apart for horses, mules and donkeys that have no vaccination histories. Meckes recommended that horses in North Carolina receive booster shots every six months because the state has such a long mosquito season.
But livestock agent Tifanee Conrad of the Richmond County Cooperative Extension said inoculations weren’t always a reliable preventive.
“Giving a vaccine is not 100 percent effective either,” Conrad said Tuesday. “There are things that can go wrong with vaccines” if they are stored improperly or administered after their dates of effectiveness.
She advocated dumping standing water from tarps, dog dishes, old tires and birdbaths, which can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The Agriculture Department also suggested keeping horses in stalls at night, using insect screens and fans, and turning off lights after dusk.
It said insect repellents could be effective if used properly.
Conrad said the case was the first she had seen since coming to Richmond County in 2007. She said she didn’t know whether the horse that died had been vaccinated.
EEE causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord, and usually leads to death.
“They very rarely are able to” save a horse that has contracted the disease, Conrad said.
Symptoms include impaired vision, aimless wandering, head pressing, circling, the inability to swallow, an irregular staggering gait, paralysis, convulsions and death, the Agriculture Department said. A horse may show symptoms within three to 10 days.
Mosquitoes bearing the disease can infect people, horses and birds, but no evidence shows that a horse can transmit the virus to other horses, birds or people through direct contact.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina averages one case of EEE yearly, usually in the eastern portion of the state. Both people and equine animals can contract EEE from infected mosquitoes, it says, although only a handful of cases are reported nationwide each year.
Most people infected do not exhibit symptoms, DHHS says, but severe cases may begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting, and may result in death — especially of young children and the elderly.
DHHS recommends using insect repellent, wearing protective clothing and stay indoors while mosquitoes are most active. Should you suspect EEE, contact your health-care provider.
As for the West Nile virus … Mosquitoes carry it after feasting on blood from an infected bird and then biting a horse, donkey or mule.
The virus then can infect a horse’s central nervous system, causing symptoms of encephalitis, including a loss of appetite and depression, in addition to fever and/or weakness of hind limbs.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]