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Press Releases

April 2, 2018
Vaccinate Most Horses Now against West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis
State Veterinarian encourages horse owners to check with their veterinarians now regarding vaccination schedule
Contact: Elaine Lidholm, 804.786.7686

Mosquito season is already here in many parts of Virginia and will blanket the entire state soon. That means it’s time to start thinking about vaccinating your horses against mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) encourages all horse owners to check with their veterinarians for vaccination recommendations for their animals. In 2017, Virginia had one case of confirmed WNV in a horse and no cases of EEE.

“Both the WNV and EEE vaccine are highly effective in minimizing disease, if given appropriately,” said Dr. Charles Broaddus, State Veterinarian at VDACS, “and that could be the reason we saw so few cases last year. Without vaccination, we would see many more infected horses. In most cases, private veterinarians will recommend them for their clients.”

The mortality rate with WNV is 30 percent, but up to 90 percent with EEE. There is no proven cure for these diseases, but veterinarians can provide supportive therapy to treat symptoms and keep horses from injuring themselves.  

The vaccines are effective for 6-12 months, so horses should be re-vaccinated at least annually and in areas where the disease occurs frequently, most veterinarians recommend vaccination every six months. For the vaccine to be effective, it must be given at least two weeks before the horse is exposed to the virus. To stimulate full immunity, horses must be vaccinated twice, about 30 days apart, the first year of vaccination.

Other prevention methods include dumping or draining standing water breeding sites (containers and puddles) for mosquitoes, using insect repellents and removing animals from mosquito-infested areas during peak biting times, usually dusk to dawn, and turning off the lights in and around the barn at night.

Humans cannot become infected with EEE or WNV by handling an infected horse, nor can a horse acquire the virus directly from another infected horse. The presence of an infected horse in the area indicates that mosquitoes carrying the EEE or WNV viruses are present, however, and those insects pose a threat to both humans and horses.

When horse owners call the vet about a vaccination schedule, they may also want to ask about a rabies vaccination and to have the horse tested for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). According to Virginia law, all horses assembled at a show, fair, race, meet or other such function, or on properties where horses belonging to different owners may come into contact with each other must be accompanied by a report of an official negative test for equine infectious anemia.

For more information on WNV, EEE or the Coggins test for EIA, contact the VDACS Office of Veterinary Services at 804.786.2483 or visit their webpage.

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