Warning to horse owners

Horse owners in San Benito County and across the state should
vaccinate their animals against the West Nile virus before the
disease hits the state with full force this summer, according to
veterinarians.
Horse owners in San Benito County and across the state should vaccinate their animals against the West Nile virus before the disease hits the state with full force this summer, according to veterinarians.

While only 1 percent of humans infected with the West Nile virus become seriously ill or die, the disease is fatal to as many as a third of all horses that contract it, said Gregory Ferraro, director of the University of California, Davis, Center for Equine Health. Those that survive can suffer from long-term or permanent disabilities.

“California’s horsemen should heed the lessons learned by other states,” Ferraro said. “West Nile virus is a potent pathogen that has the capacity to infect large numbers of horses in a short period of time.”

Tres Pinos resident Jamie Frusetta never worried about the virus before, but she recently vaccinated her three horses against the virus.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Frusetta said. “I was a little iffy about whether I should vaccinate until a case of it showed up in San Diego where a person had caught it. Now that it will probably hit California this summer, I’m more worried about it.”

Since the mosquito-transmitted virus was first reported in New York in 1999, it has quickly spread westward. It first appeared in California last summer, where a single case involving a horse was reported. A single human case also was reported. Health officials remain uncertain how that person was infected.

Nationwide, nearly 15,000 horses were infected by West Nile last year.

“The virus will undoubtedly be here, undoubtedly there will be horses that get infected and undoubtedly there will be horses that get sick and die,” Ferraro said.

Besides owning horses in SBC, Manual and Suzanne Lima run a cattle ranch in Oklahoma and have vaccinated their horses for years.

“West Nile has already hit out there,” Suzanne said. “Even though there haven’t been any cases of it here, we have vaccinated our horses as a precaution.”

The two-shot vaccination series costs roughly $70 to $100.

So far, there is no evidence to suggest that West Nile virus can be spread from human to human or from animal to person.

“West Nile is a dead-end host. It doesn’t go from humans to horses,” said local veterinarian Roger Bruce. “In some species of birds it will kill and others it will not affect them. It is real important that people and horses have a good immune system.”

Bruce said there are six varieties of mosquitoes in California that carry the virus and they have been discovered in Idaho and Washington State.

“It is now on our doorstep,” Bruce said.

Bruce said last year many migratory birds tested positive in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The best thing to do is to vaccinate your horse,” he said.

To keep the mosquito population down, Sergio Garcia, livestock advisor of the SBC UC cooperative extension, advised to empty standing water from flower pots, old tires, keep fresh water dishes out for pets, keep birdbaths clean, drain water from swimming pool covers and other places that can collect water. Clogged rain gutters is also a breeding area for mosquitoes and should be cleaned out.

By draining sources of standing water, it reduces the number of places mosquitoes can lay their eggs and breed, he said.

The county had a spraying program in areas considered susceptible as the proper environment for breeding mosquitoes.

“In the old days, we had spraying programs during the summer months,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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