RALEIGH, N.C. – Four horses have recently tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis in North Carolina. The horses were located in Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus and Durham counties. These are the first cases of EEE reported this year.
“In 2019, there were only two reported cases of EEE in horses in North Carolina,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “The fact that we have doubled the 2019 number already, points to a need to be extra vigilant and vaccinate your equine. Mosquito season in North Carolina has several more months to go.”
EEE causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord and is usually fatal. Symptoms include impaired vision, aimless wandering, head pressing, circling, inability to swallow, irregular staggering gait, paralysis, convulsions and death. Once a horse has been bitten by an infected mosquito, it may take three to 10 days for signs of the disease to appear.
“If your horses exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” said State Veterinarian Doug Meckes. “It is imperative that horse owners keep their vaccines current, talk to their veterinarian about vaccinating equine as soon as possible against EEE and West Nile virus.”
The vaccinations initially require two shots, 30 days apart, for horses, mules and donkeys that have no prior vaccination history. Meckes recommends a booster shot every six months in North Carolina because of the state’s prolonged mosquito season.
Mosquitoes can breed in any puddle of water that lasts for more than four days, so removing any source of standing water can reduce the chance of exposing animals to WNV or EEE. Keeping horses in stalls at night, using insect screens and fans and turning off lights after dusk can also help reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Insect repellants can be effective if used according to manufacturers’ instructions.
People, horses and birds can become infected from a bite by a mosquito carrying the diseases, but there is no evidence that horses can transmit the viruses to other horses, birds or people through direct contact.
While there is no vaccine to protect people from EEE, people can protect themselves with repellents and by judicious suppression of mosquito populations, especially in areas near freshwater hardwood swamps.