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McMillan Urges Horse Owners to Vaccinate for EEE & West Nile Virus

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Agriculture & Industries Commissioner John McMillan (R) announced in a written statement that the first positive cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) have been found in Alabama this year.

Commissioner McMillan said, “This is the time of year that we are extremely vulnerable to the spread of mosquito-borne viruses and we need to protect our livestock and ourselves.”  “I want to encourage horse owners to vaccinate their horses for both EEE and West Nile Virus as soon as possible.”

According to information provided by the state Department of Agriculture and Industries, EEE is a mosquito-transmitted disease that is much more severe than West Nile Virus (WNV).  The mortality rate in horses from WNV is reported at around 30%, while the rate for EEE is almost 90%.  Infected mosquitoes are the primary source for EEE.  The virus causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord.  General symptoms include central nervous system signs such as: head pressing, convulsions, lack of response to facial stimulation, fever above 103 degrees, ataxia, paralysis, anorexia, depression and stupor.  Other symptoms may include irregular gait, teeth grinding, in-coordination, circling, and staggering.  All symptoms may not be exhibited by an infected horse.

Commissioner McMillan and State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier are urging that horse owners vaccinate your horses every six months against both EEE and WNV.  Horse owners are encouraged to contact their local veterinarian to schedule a vaccination for their horses.  The public is also advised to make every effort to reduce human exposure to mosquitoes during this time of year.

The horse positive for EEE in Alabama was from Escambia County.

According to the CDC humans can gets EEE from the bite of an effected mosquito.  Human cases of the disease are very rare and are usually not severe.  In those few cases that do become severe, mortality is approximately 33%.   The disease is characterized by an inflammation of the brain(encephalitis) leading to headaches, fever, chills, and vomiting progressing to disorientation, seizures, coma, brain damage, and death.  The CDC recommends using insect repellent, wearing protective clothing, and staying indoors while mosquitoes are most active.

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80% of people infected with West Nile Virus show no symptoms.  In 20% of infected people the illness causes fever, headaches, body aches, vomiting, and can cause swollen lymph glands and a skin rash.  The illness may last for a few days or a few weeks.  In a small percentage of infected people severe symptoms can develop.  Severe symptoms can include “high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. These symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent.”  The CDC advises that the best prevention is avoiding mosquito bites.  The CDC also advises that you do not handle dead birds.  Call your health department if you encounter bird carcasses.

For more information about EEE or WNV, please contact Dr. Tony Frazier at 334-240-7253.  For more information on public health mosquito surveillance and control programs, contact the Alabama Department of Public Health, Division of Epidemiology at 800-677-0939.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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