EEE claims at least 5 horses

Published 9:36 pm Thursday, July 30, 2009

The deadly Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus has been found in several horses in Suffolk.

“In my practice alone, we’ve had five in the past month in Suffolk,” Dr. John Sangenario said. “But we’ve seen them all over the place.”

Sangenario, who works at the Dominion Equine Clinic in Suffolk, said they have also seen EEE cases in Chesapeake and other localities.

Generally, mosquitoes transmit EEE. Symptoms include staggering, circling, depression and sometimes fever and blindness.

“If the horse is not eating and acting a little depressed, then a few hours later they walk wobbly and uncoordinated, then we need to be called,” Sangenario said.

There is no cure for the virus, but it can be prevented by vaccination.

“The horses that we have been seeing have not been vaccinated,” Sangenario said. “The vaccination is very highly protective, so the chances of getting it on a vaccinated horse are extremely rare, I’ve never seen one myself. The problem is, people forget about preventative care.”

EEE occurrences can vary in strength from year to year. Given that the virus is transmitted through mosquitoes, the year’s temperature, rain levels and the overall environment affect the outbreak’s numbers.

Sangenario added that given the terrain of the Tidewater area, horse owners here are more prone to see EEE cases.

“It does seem like we have more problems here than others,” Sangenario said. “And that might be related to the mosquito population and the weather, but our whole area is at risk. It’s going to affect all the horses everywhere in our Southeastern Virginia area here. Just because they don’t live next to the Dismal Swamp doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be worried about it.”

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services advises horse owners to vaccinate their animals every six to 12 months against EEE. A vaccination includes an initial shot, with a booster six weeks later, then boosters every six to twelve months. The vaccinations must be administered correctly and in a timely fashion in order to be effective.

Sangenario said these vaccinations need to become a priority for horse owners, because it is the only defense against the lethal virus.

“I’ve never seen a horse get over EEE,” he said. “It’s deadly, it really is. There are so many easy places for people to access these vaccinations. It needs to be brought up in conversations, and these horses need to get vaccinated.”

For more information about the EEE, visit the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Web site at www.vdh.virginia.gov.