June 13, 2023

West Nile Virus

Protect your horses - why Vaccinate?

At Countryside, we follow the core vaccination guidelines of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). The AAEP considers these vaccines essential to maintaining the health and well being of the average horse and some are even necessary to safeguard human health. Core vaccinations function to decrease the severity of specific diseases or to prevent them altogether. Unfortunately, there are no effective means of treatment for many of the diseases we vaccinate for and these diseases are nearly always fatal.

What Is The West Nile Virus?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a viral disease that can result in fever and neurologic disease. WNV circulates in nature between birds and mosquitoes.

When a mosquito takes a bite of an infected bird, that mosquito is then able to transmit the virus to horses, humans, and many different species of birds. Horses are considered a dead end host meaning the virus cannot be transmitted to other species.

Image of Ginger the Horse

Meet Ginger, an unvaccinated 8 year old paint mare who does not venture off her property. In late November, Ginger started showing mild neurologic signs. She was tested for EPM, EEE, WEE, EHV, and WNV. On December 3, 2018, Ginger was confirmed to have WNV.

We cannot thank Ginger’s owners enough for allowing us to share her story. Their goal is that by sharing, they will be able to help educate owners on the importance of vaccinations.

How Was Ginger Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of WNV is typically based on clinical signs and serology testing. It’s important to emphasize that many clinical signs of WNV closely resemble a number of other equine neurological diseases like Eastern equine encephalitis, rabies, EPM and equine herpesvirus-1. Twitching of Ginger's muzzle and lower lip were the most obvious signs. In some cases, you will even see twitching of the muscles in the neck, shoulders and chest region.

Next, a full neurologic exam was performed. When Ginger was walked in a tight circle, the observation revealed that Ginger would “swing” her hind legs rather than crossing them.

Lastly, you can observe how Ginger performed when her line of vision was removed by lifting her head. Notice how she appears to be reaching or feeling for her next step. A normal horse will instantly place their legs in the right position as they walk. There should be no hesitation.

After the observation, a blood test was sent to the lab to confirm if WNV was present.

Ginger’s Outcome:

The case fatality rate for horses exhibiting clinical signs of WNV infection is approximately 33%. Prompt treatment and supportive care led to Ginger's successful outcome. The WNV has completely run its course and is cleared. Ginger is back to her normal self and is now fully vaccinated!

Other Clinical Signs Of West Nile Virus Can Include:

Zoetis What is the equine immunization guarantee? Learn more
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Impaired vision
  • Inability to swallow
  • Convulsions
  • Stumbling
  • Aimlessly wandering

By having Countryside vaccinate your horse, you will be provided with additional peace of mind through the Zoetis Immunization Support Guarantee. To be eligible for the Equine Immunization Support Guarantee, a horse must be vaccinated by a veterinarian with a qualifying Zoetis vaccine. If the horse exhibits clinical signs for a corresponding equine disease for which he was vaccinated, Zoetis will help cover the diagnostic investigation to determine the cause of illness. If diagnostics confirm disease, Zoetis will also cover ancillary diagnostic and therapeutic charges up to $5,000.

WNV Prevention

Please make sure you take measures to protect yourself, your family, and your horses from potentially infected mosquitoes. Help reduce the mosquito habitat by removing any standing water and by using approved mosquito repellant.

Most importantly, make sure your horse is on a vaccination schedule and you stick to it! Georgia has a very heavy mosquito population, so even though the temperatures may drop, adequate protection is still needed.