Florida Agriculture Commissioner warns horse owners to be on the look out for Eastern equine encephalomyelitis

Florida Agriculture Commissioner warns horse owners to be on the look out for Eastern equine encephalomyelitis
Nikki Fried, Florida State Agriculture Commissioner (Source: Nikki Fried Facebook)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is urging Florida’s horse community to be vigilant of Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE), a serious viral disease that can affect horses, birds, and humans and cause neurological injury and death.

FDACS officials recently confirmed the state’s ninth equine case of EEE this year, in a yearling Standardbred filly in Gilchrist County. The horse was sadly euthanized.

The virus, is transmitted to horses and humans by certain mosquitoes, which become infected when they feed on infected birds that circulate high levels of the virus in their blood for a period of time.

The disease is not directly transmitted between horses, from birds to horses, or from horses to humans.

“Despite being rare, EEE is one of the most dangerous mosquito-borne diseases in the U.S., with typically a third of cases resulting in death,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “It’s imperative that those working with horses watch closely for EEE signs, and everyone who ventures outside in Florida should take basic steps to avoid mosquito bites. These common-sense precautions will also help protect against Zika, dengue fever, and other mosquito-borne diseases.”

Clinical Signs & Diagnosis: The incubation period in horses of EEE is approximately one week, and early signs are generally subtle and often undetected. These may include fever, depression, stiffness, and lack of appetite, and may progress to propulsive walking, aggressiveness, hyperexcitability, paralysis, and blindness, among other signs. Some EEE-infected horses may show no clinical signs before death. EEE can be confused with other central nervous system diseases and toxic poisoning. Blood samples should be collected by a veterinarian and sent for diagnostic testing.

Prevention: Preventing EEE involves the following tips:

  • Vaccinate horses against EEE, administered properly with boosters 2-3 times per year
  • Minimize horse exposure to mosquitoes during peak mosquito feeding times of dawn and dusk
  • Apply appropriate mosquito repellant, following label directions, to reduce mosquito bites on horses
  • Drain unnecessary standing water found in wheelbarrows, tires, and similar spaces
  • Clean water containers such as birdbaths at least weekly
  • Schedule pasture irrigation to minimize standing water
  • Keep swimming pools optimally chlorinated
  • Stock water tanks with larvae-consuming fish or use commercially-available mosquito dunks

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