LAURINBURG — North Carolina’s second case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis this year was confirmed on Monday after a Scotland County horse exhibiting symptoms was euthanized last week.
According to Mike Neault, director of livestock for the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s veterinary division, the 18-month old thoroughbred had not been vaccinated.
“This is one of those mosquito-borne diseases that people can get,” Neault said. “It’s preventable with vaccines in horses, so we would encourage that when it comes to EEE and other diseases like West Nile Virus, horse owners work with a veterinarian to develop a vaccine schedule for their animals.”
EEE causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord and is usually fatal. Symptoms include impaired vision, aimless wandering, head pressing, circling, inability to swallow, irregular staggering gait, paralysis, convulsions and death. Once a horse has been bitten by an infected mosquito, it may take three to 10 days for signs of the disease to appear.
The state recorded 12 EEE cases in horses in 2014. In Scotland County, the disease was last recorded in a horse in 2009. The county saw a non-fatal human case in 2006.
The virus has been detected in North Carolina for many years and is considered endemic, meaning the virus is now commonly found in the state and owners should take appropriate measures to protect their horses. State veterinary officials recommend that horses receive the initial two-dose vaccine protocol, followed by booster shots every six months.
“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” said State Veterinarian Doug Meckes. “Several serious contagious diseases, such as West Nile virus, equine herpes virus and rabies, have similar symptoms and should be ruled out.”
The vaccinations initially require two shots, 30 days apart, for horses, mules and donkeys that have no prior vaccination history. Horses in North Carolina should receive a booster shot every six months because mosquitoes can be active for a large part of the year.
People, horses and birds can become infected from a bite by a mosquito carrying the disease, but there is no evidence that horses can transmit the viruses to other horses, birds or people through direct contact.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.