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Maryland veterinarian urges horse owners to keep vaccinations updated

Staff Writer |
As a result of heavy rains and increased mosquito populations, the Maryland Department of Agriculture strongly encourages horse owners to make sure their equines are vaccinated against West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalomyelitis, two potentially fatal diseases that are spread by mosquitoes.

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“With all of the rain the region has experienced and with mosquito season now in full swing, it is important that horse owners are being proactive and vaccinating their equines against mosquito-borne diseases,” said Maryland State Veterinarian Michael Radebaugh.

“We urge horse owners to speak with their veterinarians about vaccinations, and also remind veterinarians throughout the state of Maryland to report any cases of equine arboviruses to the department.”

Signs of West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalomyelitis include fever (though not always with West Nile virus), anorexia, head pressing, depression or personality change, wobbling or staggering, weakness, blindness, convulsions, muscle spasms in the head and neck, or hind-limb weakness.

Horse owners can also help during mosquito season by keeping horses inside during dawn and dusk, which are peak mosquito hours, and using topical insect repellents labeled for use on horses.

West Nile virus is a serious and, at times, deadly disease that affects humans and horses.

Both humans and horses can contract West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalomyelitis if bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus, but the viruses cannot be transmitted between horses or from horses to people.

The viruses normally exist in a cycle between mosquitoes and birds, but occasionally eastern equine encephalomyelitis can be transmitted from mosquitoes to mammals.

Because animals and humans both contract the virus from the bite of an infected mosquito, the department works closely with the Maryland Department of Health every year to monitor virus activity in equines.

Veterinarians should use standard infection control precautions when caring for any animal suspected to have West Nile virus or eastern equine encephalomyelitis.

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