By Beverly Keller
The West Nile Virus has been confirmed in four separate cases in the past 17 days. The first and third were located in Baltic, in a section that rests in Holmes County. The second was in Beach City, located in Stark County. None were vaccinated. The fourth was confirmed on September 4 with a horse located in Eastern Holmes County.
The horses were the first confirmed cases in Ohio this year. Last year, a total of 14 horses tested positive for the virus. According to Mark Bruce, who serves as the communications director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the first Baltic-area horse became visibly ill on August 6. The horse’s health deteriorated quickly and it was euthanized. The Beach City horse is still being treated as is the second Baltic horse.
Tests for West Nile came back positive for the first two horses on August 17 with the third positive confirmation on August 27 and the fourth on September 4.
“The Holmes County General Health District is conducting mosquito surveillance and continues to stress the importance to protect yourself and your animals from mosquito bites,” explained Holmes County Health Commissioner Michael Derr. “The best way to prevent mosquito-borne diseases is to prevent mosquito bites from happening.”
Derr noted that horses are especially prone to severe West Nile Virus infections followed by humans. “It is important to remember that people cannot get West Nile from another person or horse that has the disease,” he emphasized.
“To date, the only way that the West Nile virus affects cattle is that in areas of high prevalence we occasionally find cows with antibody titers, specific to the virus, in the bloodstream. This is indicative of an immune response to exposure or infection with West Nile. None of these cows have shown any evidence of illness or clinical disease. It remains extremely unlikely that this virus would be the cause of sickness or neurological dysfunction in the bovine species.”
— Vermont BEEF Producers Association
West Nile Virus is transmitted to horses via bites from infected mosquitoes. Clinical signs for WNV include flu-like symptoms, where the horse seems mildly anorexic and depressed. Changes in mentality, drowsiness, driving or pushing forward (often without control) and asymmetrical weakness may be observed. The mortality rate from WNV can be as high as 45 percent in horses. As with humans, infection with WNV does not always lead to signs of illness. For horses who develop the disease and do not die, about 40 percent have residual neurological damage.
WNV is a disease regularly found in the United States and was originally discovered in Uganda in 1937. Horses under the age of 5 and over the age of 15 have the greatest susceptibility to WNV.
Dr. Tony Forshey, who serves as the State Veterinarian in Ohio, urged horse owners to vaccinate their animals. “Vaccines are a proven and effective prevention tool,” he stated. “I encourage all owners to talk to their veterinarian to learn how they can easily keep their animals healthy.”
Cost of the vaccine is about $25 per dose, with discounts for bulk orders. It must be administered yearly for best protection.
Tuscarawas County Health Commissioner Katie Seward noted she is concerned about both cases as they are very close. “The first one that we were notified of in Baltic is right along the Tuscarawas County border,” she shared. “The second one was in Beach City, however, the pasture area has a fence line that sits right on the Tuscarawas County border.”
In addition to vaccinations, reducing the mosquito population and eliminating possible breeding areas are also keys to the fight. Removing stagnant water is important.
Dr. Forshey noted that dead birds such as crows, blue jays, owls, and hawks should be reported to the local county health department as they might want to test them for West Nile.