EEE virus suspected in Robeson
by Bob Shiles Staff writer
LUMBERTON — Although there have not been any confirmed cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in Robeson County, local veterinarians and health officials suspect that some local horses are suffering from the virus.
As of Tuesday, there had been five confirmed cases of the EEE in neighboring Cumberland County, according to Bill Smith, Robeson County’s health director said. No cases had been confirmed in Robeson County.
But Dr. Curtis Locklear, of Southeastern Veterinary Hospital in Lumberton, said he has recently seen two or three cases in Robeson County where he is “almost positive” the horses were suffering from EEE or closely related viruses such as Western Equine Encephalitis or Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. All can be transmitted to horses by mosquitoes.
“The cases were not confirmed because the owners did not choose to pay what the state charges to have blood tests taken to confirm the disease,” Locklear said. “In most cases like this, by the time I see the animal it is at the stage where it can’t even get up and the owner decides to just have the animal put down.”
Horses that have EEE, a virus causing inflammation of the brain, can be identified by several symptoms, including high fever; periods of excitement and restlessness; drowsiness; circling aimlessly; and eventually paralysis. The mortality of horses that encounter the virus is about 80 percent.
The threat is large because of the mosquito population in Robeson and surrounding counties resulting from large amounts of rain, according to Locklear.
“Right now, I’m not hearing anything more than usual, but encephalitis usually peaks in the fall,” he said. “I usually see more cases (of EEE) in September.”
David Brooks, a veterinarian from Pembroke, he has not recently observed any horses that have been confirmed to be suffering from EEE.
“I think it’s out there, but people aren’t calling for treatment,” he said. “It’s an economic thing. The owner has to determine how much they want to spend for treatment. Often they decide it’s too expensive and choose to put the animal down themselves.”
Both Locklear and Brooks said that the only way for horse owners to protect their animals is to have them vaccinated against the virus.
“I recommend horses be vaccinated, especially if they are kept out in pastures near wooded areas,” Locklear said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EEE is rare in humans, but it can be transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. In severe cases, the symptoms of EEE begin with the sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. The disease may then progress into disorientation, seizures, or coma.
Death in humans occur about one third of the time, and even survivors can suffer permanent brain damage.
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