By Neil Melancon, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation
In late July, a three-year-old horse tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a disease usually fatal for both horses and sometimes, people.
It’s the third such case in Louisiana found so far this year and has claimed the life of those horses. Perhaps even more tragic is that a simple vaccination could have prevented it.
According to Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain, the summertime conditions are ripe for the virus, which he says is never going to go away in Louisiana.
“Eastern encephalitis is what we call endemic—it is here and it will always be here,” Strain said. “It lives in small mammals and reptiles and also over-winters in birds and other species. When you have high humidity, warm temperatures and high rainfall… so when you look at where we’re at between 85 and 97 degrees and rain, you know, 10 or 12 days after rain events, you get an uptick in the mosquitoes and when you have an uptick in the mosquitoes, you have a surge in the virus.”
Strain himself is a horse owner and veterinarian and said the disease is easily preventable through vaccination. If left untreated, it will kill horses and spread to people.
“ I always vaccinated the horses on my property twice a year,” he said. We also recommend vaccinating mares, probably in the last month of pregnancy or the last trimester, so they would give good immunity to the foals. But also remember this: that same mosquito that bites that horse, that gives that horse encephalitis, will also give humans encephalitis.”
Strain said encephalitis cycles with West Nile Virus, so when EEE makes an appearance, the latter disease is not far behind.
“We often see these two diseases come right behind one another,” Strain said. “In years where encephalitis is particularly virulent, we often see West Nile the next year. Mosquito control is certainly part of that equation. Even if horses survive encephalitis, it can compromise their immune systems and make them more vulnerable to other diseases.”
A single dose of EEE vaccine can cost as little as $20.