Horse in Polk County tests positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis

Published 1:42 pm Friday, October 23, 2009

The N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health has confirmed a case of&bsp; Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in a horse in Polk County.

According to the Rutherford-Polk-McDowell Health District, EEE has not been identified in humans in North Carolina this year, but the case involving the horse here highlights the fact that the disease is present and people should take precautions to protect themselves and their horses. &bsp;

EEE is a rare disease. In North Carolina, it is more common in the eastern part of the state than in other areas.

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The viral illness, transmitted by some species of mosquitoes, attacks the central nervous system, causes inflammation of the brain and can be fatal to animals and humans. Wild birds serve as reservoirs for the virus. Mosquitoes bite the birds and then can transmit the virus to humans and animals.

North Carolina averages about one human case of EEE and about 10 equine cases each year. About 50 percent of human EEE cases are fatal, with young children and the elderly most at risk.

Symptoms can develop from a few days to two weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. They include rapid onset of fever and headache and can resemble a case of the flu.

Survivors of EEE infections may suffer from long-term effects to the nervous system. Therapy is limited to treating the symptoms of the disease, but there is no specific cure. There is a vaccine for horses but not for humans.

For people the best defense against EEE infection is to avoid mosquito bites. Reduce time spent outdoors, particularly in early morning and early evening hours when mosquitoes are most active; wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts; and apply mosquito repellent to exposed skin areas.

The best defense for horses is to vaccinate them against EEE. The American Academy of Equine Practitioners now recommends that EEE vaccine be administered to all horses as a component of a core vaccination program. See for additional details.

To reduce mosquito breeding areas around your home and farm:

&ull; Remove any containers that can hold water;

&ull; Keep gutters clean and in good repair;

&ull; Repair leaky outdoor faucets and change the water in bird baths and pet bowls at least twice a week;

&ull; Use screened windows and doors and make sure screens fit tightly and are not torn.

&ull; Keep tight-fitting screens or lids on rain barrels.

For more information: go to the NC DPH website: