Animal control urges owners to protect horses against virus
SUMMIT COUNTY – Animal Control manager Nancy Ring said horse owners in Summit County need to prepare now to protect their animals from West Nile virus.
Ring said a West Nile virus warning has been issued by Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDOA) officials who are reacting to last year’s experience, when about 380 horses in the state were diagnosed with the virus after the first case in August. Ninety-nine of the infected horses died.
More cases are predicted statewide this year.
“It’s important for horse owners to consider vaccinations or booster shots before the temperature and climate make conditions ideal for mosquitoes to spread the disease,” said the CDOA’s state veterinarian, Dr. Wayne Cunningham.
Cunningham said horses given the two-shot vaccinations last year will need a booster shot in April or May.
If owners didn’t vaccinate their animals last year, those horses will need the two-shot vaccination within a three- to six-week period.
“This year, we also are recommending that all horses get an additional booster vaccination in July,” Cunningham said. “Although these shots won’t prevent some horses from getting clinical signs, it does help the horses’ chances of surviving the disease.”
At this time, there are no West Nile virus vaccinations for pets, such as dogs and cats, which also are susceptible to the disease, Cunningham said.
Concerned pet owners need to consult their veterinarians if their pets are exhibiting unusual symptoms, he said.
Cunningham said one way protect both horses and companion animals is for owners to control mosquitoes on their property by eliminating standing pools of water and keeping their animals inside during the morning and evening, when mosquitoes are more likely to be feeding.
West Nile virus can cause an inflammation of the brain. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes that can infect people and animals. Although both humans and other animals have died from the disease, most West Nile virus infections do not cause any illness in either humans or animals.
Cunningham said horses infected with the virus do not transmit it to humans or other animals.
Clinical symptoms seen in infected horses include an elevated temperature, stumbling, lack of coordination, weakness of the limbs or partial paralysis.
According to Cunningham, of the unvaccinated horses that exhibit clinical signs from the infection, one of three will most likely die from the infection. The symptoms of West Nile virus are similar to Western equine encephalitis, which owners typically vaccinate their horses against, he said.
Local veterinarian Dr. Woody Shelton said he vaccinated about 250 horses last summer and fall, and he was unaware of any of the horses experiencing any adverse reactions.
He said a foal should be vaccinated at 6 months of age if the dam had the series of two vaccinations administered prior to foaling. If the dam had no protection from previous vaccinations, then foals should be vaccinated at 3 months of age.
Summit County Animal Control staff will help prevent a West Nile virus outbreak through the “Fight the Bite” public education campaign. The Summit County Environmental Health and Public Health Nursing offices also will assist.
The animal shelter will coordinate the submission of specimens or referrals for certain species collected locally for testing for West Nile virus.
The Department of Agriculture’s Rocky Mountain Regional Animal Health Laboratory can test equine serum for West Nile virus. The fee is $4.75 per sample with results within 48 hours. Samples must be sent to CDA-RMRAHL, 2331 W. 31st Ave., Denver, CO 80211.
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