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News Release
RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462
For Release: September 5, 2003
Contact: Dr. Chris Hannifan 222-4700 ext. 4503
Ken Ayars 222-4700 ext. 4500

THREE HORSES IN WASHINGTON COUNTY SUSPECTED OF CONTRACTING MOSQUITO-BORNE VIRUSES

DEM Urges Public to Take Extra Care to Avoid Mosquito Bites

PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management has been notified of three suspected cases of encephalitis in horses in Rhode Island. All three horses are from Washington County and are being investigated for possible West Nile Virus (WNV) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) infections. One horse died, one had to be euthanized, and one is alive and responding to treatment. If confirmed, these infections would represent the first equine cases of viral encephalitis in Rhode Island this season, and would also indicate the presence of WNV or EEE, or both, in mammal-biting mosquitoes in the area.

To date this year, twenty birds and one mosquito pool have tested positive for WNV, and one bird has tested positive for EEE. Those findings have come from four of the five counties in Rhode Island. The positive test results, coupled with the suspected horse infections and the fact that August through October is the peak season for mosquito transmission, mean that the public should be extra careful - both in terms of protecting their livestock and themselves.

"Horses tend to be more exposed to mosquitoes than people," says Dr. Alan Gettman, DEM's Mosquito Abatement Coordinator, "but people can put themselves at risk if they fail to guard against mosquito bites."

Final confirmation of the suspected horse infections is expected to take seven to ten days. In the meantime, DEM will be setting extra mosquito traps in the areas where the horses resided.

Both WNV and EEE are potentially fatal to horses, as well as humans, birds, and other species. The infection is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes and has an incubation period up to seven days in horses. Symptoms in horses are primarily neurological and include weakness, incoordination, stumbling, shaking, fatigue, lack of appetite, fever, collapse, and death. Prompt treatment by a veterinarian can be effective, with unvaccinated animals at the highest risk for severe symptoms and fatalities.

Mosquito control and prevention, for animals and humans, is essential in order to reduce the risk of mosquito exposure. Prevention through regular vaccination of horses, as well as some birds such as emus, raptors and parrots, is recommended and readily available from veterinarians. Standing water in ponds, pools and containers is capable of producing thousands of mosquitoes daily. Watering troughs, buckets, pails, old tires and any locations where water collects should be emptied regularly. Mosquito larvacides can be placed in pools and ponds to prevent mosquito larva from hatching into feeding adults. Animals and humans should limit outside activity during dawn and dusk when the mosquitoes are most active. Insect repellants and sprays should be used regularly and protective screening placed on all windows or doors to prevent exposures. Blankets on horses and protective clothing on humans will minimize the opportunity for mosquito bites. DEM's Division of Agriculture has distributed to the cities and towns larvacide treatments for placement in storm drains, culverts and water basins in order to prevent the hatching of adult mosquitoes from these common breeding grounds.

Horse owners who would like more information should contact their veterinarian, or they can call the state veterinarian, Christopher Hannafin, DVM, at DEM's Division of Agriculture at 222-2781 ext. 4503.

For more information about WNV and EEE, tips on personal protection, and updates from the State's mosquito monitoring program, call the Department of Health's Family Health Information Line at 1-800-942-7434, or visit www.healthri.org and/or www.state.ri.us/DEM.

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