Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - August 28, 2002

West Nile virus suspected in local horse

By Michael Jacobson

A suspected case of West Nile virus in a horse in the Paynesville area was reported over the weekend. David Pelkey, who has 14 horses on his hobby farm on Co. Rd. 34 east of Paynesville, submitted blood samples from a sick horse on Friday, Aug. 23. The horse was euthanized on Monday morning.

The test results should be back in three days, but Pelkey is sure that the West Nile virus is the cause, having had two veterinarians make that diagnosis.

This case of West Nile virus, if confirmed, would be the second in a horse in the Paynesville area, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

"No one realizes (the virus is) in our own backyard," said Pelkey, who had vaccinated his horses against the disease, though the second booster was given only a week ago and had not obtained maximum effectiveness.

West Nile virus - which was originally discovered in Africa and which first appeared in North America in 1999 - has been found in 41 states this summer. As of Friday, Aug. 23, it had been reported in 160 horses and 156 birds in Minnesota, including three horses and ten birds in Stearns County, two horses and two birds in Meeker County, and three birds in Kandiyohi County.

Wright County has the most reported West Nile cases in horses in the state with 23 cases.

In Minnesotan birds, the disease has been found most often in crows (125 reported cases) and next most often in blue jays (23 reported cases). Pelkey said he first noticed his horse stumble on Thursday evening but didn't recognize it as a symptom of West Nile virus.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, symptoms of the West Nile virus are lethargy, weakness in the hindquarter, involuntary muscle contractions, loss of coordination, head tilt, circling, convulsions, paralysis, and coma.

"People need to watch their horses," warned Pelkey, "even if they're vaccinated."

He reported his horse to a veterinarian on Friday morning and spent the next 56 hours, assisted by at least four people, in treating the horse, never leaving the horse's side, he said.

Watching the disease progress is hard, he said. "They lose so much control over themselves," he explained. "They have the mind to do things, but they physically can't do it."

A total of 733 equine cases of West Nile virus were reported nationwide in 2001, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculuture, withnearly two-thirds of the cases occurring in Florida and nearly one-third being fatal.

Pelkey urged people to watch their horses with great care for the first signs of infection. "If you can catch it early enough and keep them up, you've got a better chance," he said.

While only support care can be offered to infected horses, owners can protect their animals by taking these precautions, according to the agriculture department:

• Eliminate "mosquito zones" by mowing long grass, draining stagnant water puddles, and removing old tires, tin cans, and other items that can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes;

• 9Minimize exposure to horses by using repellents and placing screens in stables;

• Vaccinate horses against the West Nile virus. (The vaccine must be administered twice within a three- to six-week period to be effective.)

This year, as of Monday, Aug. 26, 371 human cases of West Nile virus had been reported to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Over 70 percent of the human cases were reported in Louisiana (171) and Mississippi (91). Nationwide, there have been 16 reported human fatalities due to the West Nile virus.

The presence of West Nile virus in Minnesota should not cause the state's population to panic, said entomologist Jeff Hahn of the University of Minnesota's Extension Service, and common sense strategies to minimize exposure to mosquitoes can reduce the risk even more.

The mosquito-born disease can affect birds, horses, humans, and even dogs and cats. The disease cannot be transmitted by touch, only by the bite of a mosquito.

Human illness from the West Nile virus is low, even in areas where the virus has been reported, according to the CDC.

To protect yourself from the disease, avoid mosquito bites. This can be done, according to the American Mosquito Control Association, by:

• Wearing long sleeve shirts and pants outdoors during peek mosquito activity periods.

• Applying insect repellent sparingly only to exposed skin or clothing.

• Keep repellents away from eyes, nostrils, and lips. Do not inhale, ingest, or get repellent in your eyes.

• Avoid applying high-concentration (30 percent or greater) DEET products to the skin, especially of children.

• Avoid applying repellents to portions of children's hands that are likely to have contact with their eyes or mouths.

• Pregnant and nursing women should minimize the use of repellents.

• Never use repellents on wounds or irritated skin.

• Use repellent sparingly; an application should last from 4-6 hours.

• Wash repellent-treated skin after coming indoors.

Questions and answers about the West Nile Virus from the CDC.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community