MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - Health officials are urging horse owners to vaccinate their animals after a horse on a farm west of Hobe Sound tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis.
The 3-year-old horse had not been vaccinated against the illness and was euthanized last weekend after showing signs of the severe neurological disorder, which is spread by mosquitoes.
Mosquito-borne illnesses have been of increasing public concern this year despite low populations of the insects, said Gene Lemire, spokesman for the Martin County Mosquito Control District.
In June, two chickens from a sentinel flock in Martin County tested positive for eastern equine encephalitis, and a horse in Jupiter tested positive for the virus. Dengue fever, an illness that hasn’t been seen in Florida since 1934, is spreading up the coast after as much as 5 percent of Key West residents had been exposed to the virus.
“What happens in this type of season where we don’t have a lot of rain and it’s drying out very quickly, you have small woodland pools and that’s where the mosquitoes go and that’s where the birds go, too, because it’s the only water source around,” Lemire said. “That kind of sets off this cycle of disease that we’re starting to see.”
Mosquito bites are the only way to spread eastern equine encephalitis, which affects horses, humans and some birds. The disease is rare in humans, but causes a mild, flu-like illness.
Horses can be vaccinated against the illness. Though Lemire said the district is increasing prevention efforts, health officials say horse owners should vaccinate their animals against both encephalitis and West Nile virus.
Dengue fever has not been seen on the Treasure Coast.
Copyright (c) 2010 The E. W . Scripps Company and Angie's List
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