West Nile Virus in Horses
West Nile Virus is a form of encephalomyelitis. Encephalomyelitis on its own means inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitos, but the actual reservoir for the virus is birds. Humans and other mammals are also susceptible to the disease when bitten by an infected mosquito. People rarely contract the disease from horses or each other because they do not shed enough virus to be contagious to each other.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus include fever, depression and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses the horse will show signs of neurological problems such as weakness, stumbling, head pressing confusion and paralysis. The disease is very similar to Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE), but not as severe and more than half of infected horses are able to recover.
West Nile Virus is preventable with a vaccine, but the vaccine is very new and researchers are still studying its efficacy. Mosquito control is another good way to help reduce your horses’ chances of contracting EEE. Bug sprays, fly sheets, fans, and avoidance of standing water will all help keep mosquitos away from you and your horse.