Horse owners alerted: Prepare for West Nile

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Wet spring means more mosquitoes, greater threat

By Steve Doyle

The rain continued to fall this week – at least not as hard as it has – but all that does is add to two huge concerns for summer: more mosquitoes and a much greater threat of West Nile Virus infecting horses.

For that reason, the state department of agriculture earlier this week issued an alert to horse owners to be prepared for a greater threat of the virus, which has in the past decade infected hundreds of horses and killed 137.

Of course, this is an alert that sounds loudly in Shelby County, where hundreds of horse farms and thousands of horses dominate the landscape.

“Since 2003, no horses known to have been properly vaccinated have gotten West Nile in Kentucky,” Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said in the alert, citing 513 equine cases of West Nile statewide in 2002 and the 137 deaths.

West Nile also can infect young children, the infirmed and the elderly among humans.

“The alert is very warranted,” said equine veterinarian Dr. Scott Bennett of Simpsonville. “We found out about this a long time ago, and we’re still getting about 10 cases a year, though more in the fall than the spring.”

Another equine vet, Dr. Jack Easley, said he had seen some occasional cases as well, and both doctors encourage horse owners to take this threat seriously, if they haven’t already.

 “In our practice, we’ve been busy all along,” said Bennett, who estimates he sees about 15,000 horses a year for all purposes, including vaccinations. “With the increase in moisture and increase in mosquitoes, it [West Nile] will be more prevalent.

“We’ve been keeping horses vaccinated for it all along. Most people aren’t skimping on that. We have seen quite a bit of use of West Nile vaccine.”

Said Easley:  “People need to stay diligent about vaccinating for West Nile. We have a really effective vaccine to protect horses. Most horses, I think, have been vaccinated, but they need an annual booster with that.

“Some people let their guard down about keeping up with vaccines. It’s important they do that [follow through].”

Bennett said the vaccination process is simpler, too.

“We’ve got a new vaccine out that with one shot can prevent six separate things,” he said. “I sure recommend getting that [vaccine]. The disease can be devastating.”

Easley said that along with vaccines, mosquito control is key, and he encourages residents to get rid of standing water.

“As much water as we have, we’re going to see a lot of mosquitoes,” he said. “We could have an increase in incidence in West Nile and all mosquito-borne illnesses.”

To that point, state officials, in their alert, cited steps to prevent mosquito infestation:

§       Change water every week in bird baths, pet bowls, wading pools and watering troughs.

§       Keep ponds free of vegetation and stocked with fish.

§       Destroy or dispose of tin cans, old tires, buckets, unused plastic swimming pools or other containers that collect and hold water.

§       Request through county government to have state officials spray an area for mosquitoes.

And now is the time to prepare, if you haven’t already.

“We  don’t see West Nile cases in Kentucky until about mid-June,” Easley said. “Once it gets here, you’re kind of behind on things if you’re not already vaccinated.”