Horse owners urged to guard against West Nile

Moffat County Pest Control is treating mosquito larvae in the water around Craig.

It's unusually early to treat larvae, Pest Control Director Gary Brannan said. But if the unusually warm weather continues, mosquitoes could be airborne within one month.

Because of the warm weather and potentially early onset of West Nile virus season, veterinarians are recommending horse owners vaccinate their animals early this year.

"Horse owners should begin vaccinating their animals in March and April this year, which is earlier than usual, as an added precaution," said Wayne Cunningham, state veterinarian of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

"Depending on the levels of infection in an area, a second booster shot might be needed later this year," Cunningham said.

Wayne Davis, a veterinarian at Craig Veterinary Hospital, encouraged horse owners to approach the summer strategically. In Northwest Colorado, most West Nile virus cases appear from late July to October. But cases can appear earlier. Davis recommends getting horses vaccinated now, then getting booster shots in mid-July.

"The main thing is protection. Approach it strategically," Davis said.

When horses receive booster shots, the vaccinations usually prove 97 percent or 98 percent effective, he said.

Horses that catch West Nile virus die about 30 percent of the time, Cunningham said.

Veterinarians won't vaccinate pregnant mares, because some people are concerned that the vaccine has a harmful effect on them.

In 2004, only 33 horses were infected with West Nile virus in Colorado. But in 2003, the virus infected 604 horses.

Davis saw one case in Moffat County last year.

Horses infected with West Nile can display symptoms of elevated temperature, stumbling, lack of coordination, weakness of the limbs or partial paralysis.

The infected horse in Moffat County was in bad condition and had to be euthanized.

But for the most part, horse owners here take care of their animals, Davis said.

Craig Veterinary Hospital charges $16.50 for a vaccination.

Last year, Pest Control expected West Nile virus to strike the area hard. But after testing captured mosquitoes every day, the pest control crews never detected West Nile in the insects.

But crews will approach this year the same as the last and testing daily, Brannan said.

He reminded anyone going anywhere that mosquitoes are present to wear an insect repellant with DEET.

The Rocky Mountain Regional Animal Health Laboratory in Den-ver offers West Nile Virus testing for horses every Thursday. Samples of equine serum should be sent to CDA-RMRAHL, 2331 West 31st Avenue, Denver, CO, 80211. For more information about the test, contact the lab at (303) 477-0049.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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