Experts urging horse vaccinations for West Nile

West Nile virus crept its way to Northwest Colorado last summer and this year state and local experts are predicting more cases of the disease in area horses.

Which is why they are urging horse owners to get their animals vaccinated as soon as possible.

"It's important for horse owners to consider vaccinations or booster shots before the temperature and climate make conditions ideal for mosquitoes to spread the disease," said Wayne Cunningham, state veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Horses that were given the two-shot vaccinations last year will need a booster shot in April, the department is recommending.

If owners didn't vaccinate their animals last year, those horses will need the two-shot vaccinations within a three- to six-week period.

"Although these shots won't prevent some horses from getting clinical signs, it does help its chances

of surviving the disease," Cunningham said.

Kelly Hepworth, a veterinarian at the local McCandless Animal Hospital, said they are encouraging people to get their horses vaccinated sooner than later this year.

"You need to have them vaccinated four to six weeks before the bugs get out," he said.

West Nile virus has worked its way west across the United States over the last couple of years.

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that infected 13 people in Colorado last year, none in Northwest Colorado.

Nationally, it infected 4,100 people in the United States, and killed 277.

About 400 horses were infected with the virus statewide last year.

Jim Miller, director of policy and communications with the Department of Agriculture, said horse owners are urged to get their horses vaccinated because they are more likely to show symptoms of the disease. There also is a 30 percent death rate in horses that are

infected.

In addition to vaccinations, horse owners are urged to take steps to control mosquito populations on their property.

This includes eliminating pools of water where mosquitoes breed and keeping horses inside during the mornings and evenings when mosquitoes feed.

Clinical symptoms of West Nile virus in horses include an elevated temperature, stumbling, lack of coordination, weakness of the limbs and partial paralysis.

Dogs and cats can also be infected with the disease but, at this time, there is no vaccination available for pets.

Hepworth said while pets contracting the disease is not likely, people should contact their veterinarian if their pets show any possible symptoms of the disease.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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