Encephalitis: Mosquitoes and their Nasty Viruses

Encephalitis: Mosquitoes and their Nasty Viruses

Tuesdays with Tony

Eastern Equine Encephalitis

It’s been a rough two weeks around here. My Docs have diagnosed three horses with Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). Two of those were very healthy, well cared for horses which helped them defy the odds, and survive the virus. The third horse, unfortunately, had to be euthanized. Ninety (yes, ninety) percent of horses who get EEE die or are euthanized. Being a cat, I’m not one to mince words, but I’m really not going to here. It’s a horrible way to die. They get super-high fevers, they get massive headaches, and, after as little as 12 hours, they start having seizures. Once they start having seizures it can be impossible for my Docs to even euthanize them.

Horrible, awful, no good mosquitoes

EEE normally goes about life happily going from birds, to mosquitoes, to birds, and round and round. This works well for EEE. Birds (most of them anyway) don’t get sick or die from the virus, and mosquitoes make an excellent delivery vehicle as they fly around being annoying. However, if one of these mosquitoes carrying Encephalitis bites a horse or human, the story changes dramatically.

The key to remember here is that a mosquito is carrying the virus to your horse. All that’s needed is some water (we’ve got lots of that in Florida), some mosquitoes (we probably have more mosquitoes than water in Florida), some birds, and some EEE virus. Your horse doesn’t even have to leave the farm to get sick. No other horse has to come visit to bring the virus. It comes to you just like a pizza delivery.

EEE Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Is EEE everywhere?

Yes, it’s everywhere in Florida. If you want to know just how everywhere it is, click here. Each week the State of Florida posts an update about the prior week’s mosquito-borne virus activity. Personally, it’s what I’m checking out while it appears I’m sleeping on the keyboards around here. Did you know the State has sentinel chicken flocks? These are chickens that get a little bit of blood taken every week. This blood is tested for EEE, WNV, and a bunch of other viruses to see if the chickens have been exposed. Watching these flocks helps people like my Docs know if Encephalitis or West Nile Virus is active in an area. You can see some crazy stuff on these reports! This past week a person in Taylor county tested positive for EEE!!!

Wait… Humans can get it too?

Yep. I said it earlier, but you might have been distracted as you humans are prone to do. The good news is not every horse or human will get sick. The DNA that particular horse or human has is a key factor in how they respond. If they have an immune system that lets the virus get into the brain and spinal cord, that’s really bad. If the immune system then recognizes the foreign invader and goes after it with all-out warfare, that’s really, really bad. The immune system likes to respond with a nuclear annihilation-level response. That response inside the brain and spinal cord causes a lot of swelling. Swelling inside the skull doesn’t go very well.

Vaccines save lives

Great news: there’s an easy, inexpensive way to save your horse from the agony of EEE. Vaccinate. It’s so easy even a dog can understand it. For the average horse, twice-yearly vaccination for EEE will give them good protection. For youngsters, old guys, and anyone else who may have a stressed immune system, every 4 months is a better plan. This vaccine works! My Docs have even made it easy to know if your horse is protected with their Wellness Plans. In fact, Eastern Equine Encephalitis is one of the biggest reasons the Wellness Plans exist. My Docs want to make sure every horse is well-vaccinated against this horrible virus, so they came up with a plan that made it easy for you horse owners to stay on schedule. Sure, it’s a shameless plug for the Wellness Plans, but this is one of the many reasons Wellness is fantastic!

We live in the land of mosquitoes and water, which means EEE has the perfect environment to live the good life. Be a good human. Vaccinate your horse so they don’t get this horrible virus.

Now be an even better human and scroll on down and subscribe to my blog. Weekly Tony wisdom for free: You can’t beat that!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Tuesdays with Tony – The 21st Century Barn

Tuesdays with Tony – The 21st Century Barn

Let me just start off by saying that despite it being the 21st century and all, a barn cat is still the best way to keep the rodent population down.  But there are areas where the fancy gizmos and gadgets of 2016 can really benefit the modern horse farm.  I had always thought that most of this stuff wasn’t anywhere near affordable until I crunched the numbers myself and converted Kitty Coin currency to American Dollars.
Everyone likes barn work (I guess?), but what are the jobs that you just wish were a little bit easier?  Do you get tired of dragging out the garden hose, standing in the sun filling up the buckets, and rolling the hose back up twice a day?  Well for one, I don’t know why you don’t have the water spigot closer to the buckets, but secondly, you could have the water monitored by a ‘smart’ watering and monitoring system.  BTW, calling these automated devices ‘smart’ is just as brilliant as calling an owl wise.  Again, it’s your feline friend that is the master mouse hunter.  But regardless of what we are calling it, smart watering systems are only the beginning.
Ever heard the bang of thunder at 2am and are fighting the inner conflict of laziness verse desire to check on your horses?  Well, you could stay in bed and look at the barn cameras right on your ‘smart’ phone or tablet.
Did your horse miss an afternoon shower and need to cool off?  You can have a misting area in your barn or paddock to cool down your equine friend.
Wondering if that mosquito that just bit you was carrying the Zika virus?  Worry not because you didn’t get bitten, you had an automated fly repellent system.
Traveling the national show circuit but concerned about the retired horse back home who doesn’t like the heat?  Install some new high-efficiency paddle fans.  Don’t want to leave them on and run up the electric bill?  I did say “high-efficiency”, but still you can have them turn on and off automatically when horses are present through occupancy sensors.
Have you ever walked into your tack room and thought you entered a walk-in-freezer?  Or worse, a sauna?  No problem, you can monitor and control the room temperature remotely and prevent anybody but you from making any adjustments.
Kept up at night by the thought of a barn fire or other natural disaster?  That’s why there are smoke, fire, gas, and unfriendly tomcat detection systems that can alert you, as well as fire suppression systems and breakaway gates to minimize damage in such a tragic event.
You left the barn lights on and already got into your kitty print PJs?  No problem.  You have a lighting control system and have a button to shut the whole barn down right in your bedroom.
You have to walk all the way to the corner of the paddock to call one of our veterinarians because your horse cut himself and you don’t get good service at the barn?  Why not install a cell phone booster?  Or hey!  Bring WiFi out to the barn then you can use WiFi calling (check your carrier for rates and compatibility) or browse FaceBook because you still haven’t gotten an automated water bucket and are standing there with a hose!
Ah, the 21st century.  I think I’ve only scratched the surface with the many things we can do that my parents sure couldn’t in their day.  Now if I can just convince the doctors we need a 4K TV in the office….
– Tony
Tuesdays with Tony – Vaccine Seminar

Tuesdays with Tony – Vaccine Seminar

No surprise, my vaccine seminar last Thursday was a huge success! You’re welcome. My chosen speaker, Dr. Hancock from Boehringer Ingelheim, was excellent. I was there, which of course was the best part. I conveniently positioned myself in the entryway so each attendee would have to either pet me or step over me on their way in.

If you missed it, you better have a darn good excuse for me. But, since I am a forgiving Tony, I will give you a quick recap:

There was a time not too long ago when we didn’t have vaccines. Then, some brilliant people in black and white photos came along and figured out you could inoculate (that’s a fancy doctor word for vaccinate) a person or animal to protect them against a given disease. Things like Smallpox, Rinderpest, and Polio were all virtually eradicated by this method.

The same technology has been used by the government to develop vaccines against biowarfare agents, like botulism. Dr. Hancock was part of a top-secret mission using draft horses to develop and mass-produce such a vaccine in case of a bio-terrorist attack. Sometimes when I’m bored on the weekends, I pretend I am part of a top-secret government mission to take down the enemy (Teanie).

Anywho, back to vaccines. Some viruses that we vaccinate against are tricky little buggers. West Nile Virus, for example, wasn’t a very big deal until about 15 years ago when it underwent a mutation that enabled it to spread much faster. The flu virus in humans mutates to different strains about once every 8 months! Lucky for horses, equine flu only mutates about once every 10 years.

Also lucky for horses, their humans, and veterinarians, we have smart researchers like the people at Boehringer Ingelheim (that’s the company that produces most of our vaccines). They are constantly monitoring new and established diseases, and updating their vaccines accordingly, to make sure your horses have the best protection possible. This is what makes the vaccines given by our veterinarians superior to, say, ones you could buy at the feed store. (Not that any of our clients would even THINK of doing such a foolish thing!)

Dr. Hancock wasn’t afraid to say it, and neither am I: being anti-vaccination is just stupid! There is ZERO evidence to show that vaccines have any serious negative health effects, and PLENTY of evidence to show how well they work at preventing horrible and deadly diseases. The cost of vaccination is peanuts compared to the cost of treating any of the many diseases they protect against.

If you have any questions about why to vaccinate, when to vaccinate, or what to vaccinate against, I happen to know two pretty brilliant women who also happened to go to veterinary school that would be happy to answer your questions! Tis the season for fall shots, so call early to schedule your appointment. If I am unavailable (I spend a large part of my day sunbathing, self-grooming, and patrolling the perimeter), Stephanie or Mallie will be happy to help you.

Until next time!



Tuesdays with Tony – Those Pesky Mosquitos

Tuesdays with Tony – Those Pesky Mosquitos

Well, we are into that time of year when I don’t know whether to prepare for a monsoon or to park myself directly in front of the fan all day. As I’m sure you know, cats hate water. We also hate tropical storms, flooding, hurricanes, and basically anything that causes puddles of water which we are then forced to tread through with our delicate paws. Thus it was no surprise to me that tropical storm Colin, that jerk, caused a bunch of flooding that is going to bring on even more mosquitos than usual this summer!
   As the self-proclaimed manager of a veterinary practice, mosquitos of course make me think of diseases, which make me think of vaccinations! Many of the core diseases that we vaccinate against here at Springhill Equine, namely West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, are transmitted by those nasty mosquitos. How does that work, you ask?
     The simplest way to understand it is to look at it from the virus’ point of view. If I am a virus, my goal is to replicate, and to spread myself to as many individuals as possible. One way to do that is to live in the bloodstream of birds. When a mosquito bites an infected bird, it will ingest blood laden with me (the virus). I will replicate inside the mosquito and get into the mosquito’s saliva. Then, when it goes to bite another bird, I (the virus) will infect that bird through the mosquito’s saliva.
   So, what does all this stuff about birds and mosquitos have to do with horses? Well, nothing really. Horses are an accidental, or “dead end” host for the virus. The virus cannot replicate within horses (or humans for that matter). Thus it cannot spread from an infected horse to any other individual. That stinks for the virus. But unfortunately for horses, when an infected mosquito bites an unvaccinated horse instead of a bird, the horse will still show symptoms of the disease, which are often fatal.
   So, horses and my other mammalian followers, make sure to lather yourselves up with Mosquito Halt this summer! Oh, and don’t forget to have our docs out to catch you up on your West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis vaccines! Stay dry, stay cool, stay classy.
Tony fan