The West Nile virus is making its appearance again in New Mexico this year according to veterinary experts, although it does not appear to be as active as last year’s outbreak. Still, Flint Taylor, of the New Mexico Veterinary Diagnostic Service, said it is imperative that horse owners vaccinate their horses against the crippling disease. “I cannot overemphasize the importance of vaccinations for horses,” said Taylor. “About one third of horses that contract the West Nile virus develop clinical symptoms and one third of those horses will die.”
Tucumcari veterinarian, Jean Corey, echoed Taylor’s concern about vaccinations. “I’ve been telling all horse owners that come into my office to make sure they get their horses vaccinated,’ said Corey. “Two years ago, Quay County was the first county in New Mexico to see cases of the disease brought on by the West Nile virus. Close to a dozen horses contracted the virus and had to be treated for symptoms.”
Taylor said the West Nile virus can infect humans.
“One out of every 150 people who get the virus will die,” said Taylor, “and five or six out of 100 develop symptoms. Humans get infected by mosquitoes just as horses do. In general, though, most people who get the virus don’t even know they have the virus, and don’t seem to develop any symptoms of disease.” Paul Ettestad, New Mexico’s Public Health Veterinarian, said there have been five human cases in New Mexico so far this year. “We’ve had two cases in Santa Fe County, one in San Juan County, one in Bernalillo County and one in Sandoval County,” he said. “That’s five fewer cases than last year, but it’s too early to tell how many New Mexico residents will be affected. The peak time for human cases is in the middle of August. I see no reason why the virus could not spread to every county this year.”
Taylor said that for horses, the disease can be severe.
“The horses that develop clinical symptoms begin to lose equilibrium and get weak,” he said. “Muscles can begin to shake involuntarily then encephalitis can set in which can kill or permanently cripple the horse. That is why I strongly urge that horse owners get their horses vaccinated.”
Rex Buchman, of Fort Sumner, vaccinated all of his horses the first year of the West Nile outbreak. “My vet told me to get my horses vaccinated or be prepared to bury them,” said Buchman. “I get all my horses vaccinated each year.”
Ettestad said as yet there is no vaccine for humans.
“The National Institute of Health is working on a vaccine, but the best thing people can do now is wear mosquito repellent and protective clothing, especially in the early evenings,” said Ettestad. “Mosquito repellents with the chemical DEET work best.” Taylor said the first appearance of West Nile virus in the U.S. was reported three years ago at the Bronx Zoo. “The virus was found in zoo birds like flamingos,” said Taylor. “Mosquitoes gave the virus to birds and then the second crop of mosquitoes get the virus when they feed on the birds. Mosquitoes and birds pass the virus back and forth, but only mosquitoes have been shown to pass the virus to horses and humans. Horses do not pass the virus to other horses or humans.”