For Immediate Release - April 29, 2010

State Animal Health Officials Caution Animal Owners about increased risk of West Nile Virus, EEE

BOSTON - April 29, 2010 - With record-level rainfall in March and mosquito season approaching, state officials are reminding animal owners that some animals are at risk for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEE). The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) urges animal owners to be aware of the risks associated with these diseases and take necessary steps to protect their animals, including vaccinations and reducing standing water on properties.

"Prevention is the best way to keep these diseases from taking hold and spreading across the Commonwealth," said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares. "Fortunately, there are effective vaccines available for horses, which are particularly vulnerable to these viruses."

In addition to horses, WNV and EEE pose a serious risk to other species, including ratites (e.g. ostrich, emu), pheasants, llamas and alpacas. Since 2001, 56 horses in Massachusetts have been infected with WNV and 24 with EEE. Two emus, two alpacas, one llama, and one cow have also tested positive for EEE in Massachusetts since 2001.

It is important to take preventive actions prior to the time of the year when mosquitoes are likely to bite. Owners should consult their veterinarian before the height of the mosquito season and not wait until positive cases are reported in their area since it takes several weeks for an animal to be fully protected by a vaccine.Animals infected by EEE and WNV develop neurologic symptoms that can lead to death. There is no treatment for either infection, although supportive care can be provided.

"Every year there is a potential for animals' to get bitten by an infected mosquito and keeping current on vaccinations is one way to keep your animals healthy," said DAR Director of Animal Health Mike Cahill.

In addition to vaccination, animal owners can reduce potential mosquito breeding sites on their property by eliminating standing water from containers such as buckets, tires, and wading pools, especially after heavy rains. Horse troughs provide an excellent mosquito breeding habitat and should be flushed out at least once a week during the summer months to reduce mosquitoes near the paddock area. Horse owners should also keep their animals in indoor stalls at night to reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes. Additionally, using fans in stable areas may reduce the ability of mosquitoes to land and feed on horses.

Animals diagnosed with WNV or EEE must be reported to the DAR Division of Animal Health at 617-626-1795 and to the Department of Public Health (DPH) at 617-983-6800.

DAR's mission is to ensure the long-term viability of local agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions - Agricultural Development, Animal Health, Crop and Pest Services, and Technical Assistance - DAR strives to support, regulate, and enhance the Commonwealth's agricultural community, working to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture's role in energy conservation and production. For more information, visit DAR's website at www.mass.gov/agr and/or follow us at twitter.com/MDARCommish