Equine virus on rise in Southeast

By Daniel Yee

Tallahassee Democrat


ATLANTA, GA- While West Nile virus cases increase in the West, another mosquito-borne virus continues to rage in the Southeast, afflicting hundreds of horses - and several people.

Eastern equine encephalitis has affected high numbers of horses in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Horse cases have been reported up the East Coast to Maryland.

State health officials say Florida's 178 horse cases represent activity that's seven times higher than last year. South Carolina has found 120 horses and two emus infected. Georgia has had 47 horses infected.

"This is the worst year in our records - it has hit the East Coast and the Gulf Coast pretty hard," said Dr. Venaye Reece, equine-programs coordinator for Clemson University's livestock- and poultry-health programs office. "When you lose hundreds of horses in one state, it's severe."

But Florida's virus activity may be showing signs of change. Last week, Florida health officials recorded a smaller number of new horse cases than in previous weeks for the first time, said Lindsay Hodges, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health.

The virus is extremely dangerous for horses - nearly all that are infected either die from the disease or suffer severe brain damage from it. A vaccine exists that protects horses.

It also is dangerous to humans because it has a higher mortality rate than West Nile, and no human vaccine exists for either disease. Eastern equine encephalitis kills between 30 percent to 50 percent of those infected. West Nile's mortality rate is much lower - between 3 percent and 15 percent.

At least six people have been infected with eastern equine encephalitis this year, and finding just four or five human cases in a year can mean a heavy virus season, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said. Previously, the CDC had recorded only 153 human cases since 1964.


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