This month, the Agriculture and Industries Commissioner confirmed the first positive case of a deadly horse virus in Escambia County, and veterinarians in Butler County say that can be cause for concern for horse owners.
The virus is called Eastern Equine Encephalitis; also know as E.E.E. Veterinarians say it is spread from birds to mosquitoes. When infected mosquitoes bite a horse, 9 times out of 10, it is a death sentence.
Brittney Reynolds with Clay Hill Animal Clinic in Greenville says it takes 1 to 3 weeks before horses show clinical signs of infection, "There is no treatment. There is a 90% mortality rate, unfortunately. A lot of times after they start running a fever, within 24 to 48 hours they will develop neurologic signs, so they might choke because they can't swallow, or they'll walk in circles continuously."
Tom Duncan says he lost two horses to E.E.E. a few years ago, even though he followed vaccination protocol by giving them shots once a year, "Our horses are more a part of the family. They're like the dogs or the cats, they're pets. It's just hard on the animals, it's hard on the people, and you just don't want nothing like that to go on."
Veterinarians now say, especially in South Alabama, mosquito season is longer, so having E.E.E. vaccinations every six months is the most effective prevention, "You know, when it starts popping up in counties near us, I know it's definitely in the mosquito population, so even if they're within a month of their booster, I'd like to go ahead and do it just to make sure they're totally protected," says Reynolds.
The State veterinarian says the virus can not be spread from contact with a horse, only from mosquitoes.
Alabama Department of Public Health officials say E.E.E. can be spread from mosquitoes to humans, but there have not been any reported human cases yet this year. They encourage people to use mosquito repellants and remove standing water from around your home to protect yourself from the virus.