West Nile Virus fells local horse | VailDaily.com

West Nile Virus fells local horse

Veronica Whitney

The first horse reported to have had West Nile virus in Eagle County was put down Thursday after it became paralyzed by the disease.

But no more human cases have been reported as of Thursday, said Sarah Schipper, Eagle County nurse. The county reported its first human case of West Nile virus in August when a blood sample obtained from an Edwards’ woman tested positive for West Nile fever, the most common and milder form of the mosquito-born disease that has killed 24 people in Colorado.

In July, a dead bird found in Gypsum tested positive for the disease that can cause symptoms that, in humans, range from flu-like to meningitis and encephalitis.

“The big thing is to get horses vaccinated and people should take precautions,” said Eagle-Vail Animal Hospital veterinarian Chris Roth, who submitted the horse’s blood sample to the Rocky Mountain Regional Animal Health Laboratory in Denver.

As a result of the disease, Brazos, the 11-year-old mustang from Bond, was unable to get up for two days and had to be put down. He was un-vaccinated.

Although there’s no vaccine against West Nile virus for humans, there is one available for horses.

“When they (horses) are down that long, the muscles lose blood supply and that results in a complete paralysis that is irreversible,” said Courtney Diehl, another local veterinarian that dealt with the sick horse.

Although the weather has cooled down, Schipper said the human case count will continue well into October.

“It’s still possible to contract the disease. The weather will warm up again before the winter,” Schipper said. “Also, some people who might have contracted the disease in August might not know it yet.”

The incubation period lasts from three to 14 days.

The 24 deaths are among 1,348 human cases of West Nile virus reported in Colorado for 2003, says the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Other totals for confirmed cases of West Nile virus reported in Colorado this year include 664 birds; 500 horses; 88 blood samples taken from chickens in the 23 chicken flocks maintained by the state and local health departments at locations across Colorado; and 547 mosquito pools.

The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause the brain and spinal cord to swell. Mosquitoes acquire the virus from birds and pass it on to other birds, animals and people. Mosquitoes spread this virus after they feed on infected birds and then bite people, other birds and animals. It is not spread by person-to-person contact and there is no evidence that people can get the virus by handling infected animals.

“Horses and people are dead-end hosts,” Diehl said. “We can get sick, but we can’t pass the disease.”

Symptoms in horses might start out as muscle twitching around the face.

“This could be the only symptom you see. It can progress to weakness, tremors and inability to stand,” Diehl said. “We can have disease in vaccinated horses, too.”

Diehl recommends horse owners vaccinate their animals.

“Everybody up here has been very good in vaccinating their horses. This year, we’ve given about 300 doses,” Diehl said. “But people need to do what they can to protect the animals, including keeping them indoors during dawn and dusk when more mosquitoes are out.”


– Avoid outdoor activities – such as gardening – at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

– If you’re outside during the periods when mosquitoes are most active, cover up by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes and socks.

– Use mosquito repellents with DEET. Products with 10 percent or less DEET are recommended for children.

– Eliminate standing water in tires or similar water-holding containers as these may serve as mosquito breeding sites. Change the water in birdbaths at least weekly.

On the Web: http://www.FighttheBiteColorado.com

Hotline: 1-877-462-2911.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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