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.
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.
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