For Immediate Release - August 05, 2010

State Animal Health Officials Caution Animal Owners About Increased Risk of West Nile Virus and EEE

Animal owners urged to vaccinate animals and eliminate standing water

BOSTON - August 5, 2010 - As state agencies take steps to begin plans for aerial spraying of pesticides against mosquitoes in selected areas of southeastern Massachusetts this week, agricultural officials remind animal owners that there are effective precautionary measures that can be taken to protect animals against mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEE). The Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) urges all 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.

Since 2001, 56 horses in Massachusetts have been infected with WNV and 26 with EEE, which includes two that were found to be positive in July of this year. In addition to horses, WNV and EEE pose a serious risk to other species, including ratites (e.g. ostrich, emu), pheasants, llamas and alpacas. Two emus, two alpacas, one llama, and one cow have also tested positive for EEE in Massachusetts since 2001.

"We've seen an unusual mix of hot weather and rainfall this year, which has led to an increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases that threatens not only residents but also our domestic animal population across the state, and in particular Bristol and Plymouth Counties," said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares. "While the most effective time to vaccinate animals is in May, any unaffected equine can still benefit from the protection of vaccination."

Although positive cases have already been reported, exposures can occur well into October, according to DAR Director of Animal Health Mike Cahill. Owners should consult their veterinarian about obtaining vaccinations immediately since it takes several weeks for animals to build up immunity after an injection. Foals may be vaccinated as early as two to three months of age when there is an increased disease risk.

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 Director Cahill. "It is important to take preventive actions."

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 at 617-983-6800 or 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. For your gateway to locally grown products, specialty foods, and fun ag-tivities go to www.mass.gov/massgrown.