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State officials are worried about the effect of a mosquito outbreak on Kentucky’s equine population, so much so that the commissioner of agriculture has issued a warning to horse owners to vaccinate their animals against the West Nile virus.
“While we do not wish to cause unnecessary alarm, we are concerned about the equine population’s vulnerability to this potentially deadly disease,” Commission James Comer said in a press statement released last week.
Comer said that concerns stem from the fact that weather conditions are ripe in the state for mosquitoes, the carriers of the virus, to thrive.
West Nile is spread by mosquitoes, and causes encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, in horses, birds, humans and other mammals.
State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Stout said in the press release that he advises equine owners to vaccinate their horses as soon as possible. He also told The Sentinel-Newsthat he would expect that Shelby County would take a particular interest in the situation.
“Especially since Shelby County is the Saddlebred capital of the world, and those horses, by and large, are in the show stream,” he said.
Stout said that symptoms include muscle spasms, weakness of hind limbs and weakness. Fever and convulsions can also be present. The thing is, he said, there is no treatment, other than preventative.
“First time horses will need two shots, one about three to four weeks after the other, to let them develop an effective immunity,” he said. “Given in April, a vaccination will probably protect the horse throughout the mosquito season.”
Public safety hazard
David Cammack, environmental supervisor for the North Central Health Department, said that mosquito infestation is also hazardous to human populations as well, because West Nile can also be contracted by people.
He said that in addition to warm, wet temperatures prevailing this spring, mosquitoes and other insects will probably be more dominant this year because it did not get cold enough to exterminate many of them.
“Because of the mild winter, things weren’t killed off the way they usually are,” he said.
Cammack said that the health department will follow a complaint-driven program that will help it to have some idea of the scope of the mosquito situation this year.
“We will log complaints, and when we get several complaints in a general area, we’ll call the state department of agriculture, and set up a time for them to bring over their fog truck,” he said. “They will spray at night, when everybody’s asleep.”
Cammack said people should call his office at 633-9377 to lodge a complaint about mosquitoes.
University of Kentucky professor Ricardo Besson agreed with Kammack’s assessment of the bug situation.
“So far this year, we are expecting higher survival rates this winter, and we have had an early spring,” he said. “So what this means is that there is likely to be higher numbers of insects and other arthropods this spring and they will become active sooner, due to the warm weather.”
What’s more, Besson said, with an early spring, there will also be more time for insect populations to increase, with some pests possibly able to squeeze in an additional generation.”
What kinds of bugs will be more prominent?
“What people have seen so far this spring, ticks have been active for several weeks now, as well as mosquitoes,” Besson said. “So when out hiking, people should be taking the same tick precautions that they would typically need to use later in the year.
“Because we are likely to see above normal numbers earlier in the year, this it will be important to use the non-chemical ‘cultural’ controls preventively. For example with ticks, keeping grass mowed regularly around the house, yard and other paths where people frequent.
“With mosquitoes, ensure that containers that will catch and hold water are removed from the yard or drained.”
Besson said he holds out a small hope that one thing could happen to zap the insect population.
“The one caveat is that there is still time for a late cold snap which would change things,” he said.