EEE deadly in almost a dozen Louisiana horses

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Aug 20, 2007
By dvm360.com staff

Louisiana - 8/20/2007 - The state is urging horse owners to vaccinate their animals after the mosquito-borne virus Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) caused the deaths of at least eight horses in Lafourche Parish, La.

"Since there is no cure for Eastern equine encephalitis [only supportive care], I am urging horse owners to vaccinate their animals. This is a very preventable disease, but often horse owners wait until it is too late," says Bob Odom, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Horses should be given two doses of the vaccine, about two weeks apart. Vaccinated horses can receive an annual booster for protection.

Any suspected cases of equine neurologic encephalitis should be immediately reported, Odom cautions.

While it can't be spread directly from horses, EEE can also infect humans, causing concern among veterinarians and human health authorities. Horses can act as sentinels to alert public officials when the virus is present in an area, but there is no vaccine for humans.

Clinical signs of EEE in horses include depression, ataxia, a sleepy appearance, circling and recumbency. Causing swelling of the brain, the virus has a 90 percent mortality rate, according to the department of agriculture and forestry.

"Only rarely do horses recover from Eastern equine encephalitis," Odom says. "Even when an animal doesn't die, it is almost always brain damaged and is never usable again."

There are an average of five human EEE cases annually, and Louisiana reported 16 equine cases last year, according to the USDA's National Animal Health Surveillance System and Centers for Disease Control.