Monmouth horse contracts eastern equine encephalitis

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher announced on Oct. 20 that a 2-year-old horse from Monmouth County was euthanized on Oct. 6 after contracting eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), a rare but serious mosquito-borne illness in horses.

“The equine industry plays an important role in this state’s economy and it is important to protect them from diseases spread by mosquitoes,” said Fisher. “Horse owners should contact their veterinarians to have their animals vaccinated against these illnesses.”

According to a press release, the Monmouth County mare had not been vaccinated against EEE. Effective equine vaccines for EEE and another mosquitoborne disease, West Nile virus (WNV), have been available for several years. Horse owners should contact their veterinarians now if their horses are not already up to date on their vaccinations against EEE and WNV.

EEE causes inflammation of the brain tissue and has a significantly higher risk of death in horses than WNV infection. WNV is a viral disease that affects horses’ neurological systems. Horses contract the virus when infected mosquitoes bite them. The diseases cannot be spread from horse to horse or from an infected horse to humans or domestic pets, according to the press release.

While the EEE case is the first of 2010, there have been two reported cases of WNV this year — a 2-year-old mare from Atlantic County and a 22-year-old gelding from Gloucester County. Both were humanely euthanized and neither had been vaccinated for the disease.

In 2009, New Jersey had one case of equine WNV, six horses tested positive for EEE and three animals were presumptive positive for EEE. In 2008, there were no equine cases of either disease.

WNV and EEE, like other viral diseases affecting horses’ neurological systems, must be reported to the state veterinarian at 609- 292-3965 within 48 hours.