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Advance notice

by Rebecca Colnar, Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

It's already been reported in 400 horses in 27 states, and has now reached the Midwest, been found as far north as Ontario and as far south as the Cayman Islands. West Nile Virus is expected to continue its spread in 2002.

Being alert is the first line of defense; dead birds, particularly crows, are an early warning. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds that have high levels of the virus in their blood. The insects can then transmit the disease to humans or other animals.

Understandably, mosquito control plays an integral role in prevention. Be sure to clean your feed tubs and buckets frequently, and remove objects that may trap standing water. Make liberal use of equine insect repellents.

West Nile Virus is not transmitted from person to person, and there is no evidence humans can be infected from handling infected birds, living or dead. But for safety's sake, if birds or other potentially infected animals must be handled, use a protective barrier (gloves, plastic bags).

Report bird kills to wildlife, parks and recreation, public health or ag departments in your state.

What constitutes a suspect case--and how it should be investigated--depends on whether or not it occurs in a West Nile Virus-affected area--that is, within 10 miles of any county where an infection in an equine has previously been confirmed.

Infection in horses may include both central nervous system and peripheral nervous system signs. These may be indistinguishable from other equine encephalitides, including rabies, equine herpesvirus-1 (see page 10), equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, and eastern, western, or Venezue- lan equine encephalomyelitis.

The most common signs of infection are ataxia, weakness, recumbency, muscle fasciculation and death. Fever has been detected in less than one-quarter of all confirmed cases.

A vaccine was conditionally licensed last August. For effective protection, a first dose must be followed three to six weeks later with a second. Your vet will give an annual booster in the spring or early summer to maintain protection.

Read the next horse diseases article on Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD).
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