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Two Cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis Confirmed in Texas

28 July 2015

US - The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) recently confirmed Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in three horses in East Texas.

The horses were from separate facilities, one in Newton County, one in Liberty County and one in Orange County. The Orange County case is approximately 10 miles from an EEE case that occurred in 2014.

EEE is a viral disease that normally cycles between wild birds and mosquitoes. As the virus infection rate increases in birds it is more likely to be transmitted by an infected mosquito that bites horses and humans.

The virus abruptly attacks the central nervous system. EEE cannot be transmitted from horse to horse, or from a horse to a human. Horses and humans are considered “dead-end” hosts which means if infected they cannot transmit the virus back to feeding mosquitoes.

As a reportable zoonotic disease, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) were made aware of the positive test results. Human infection with EEE is relatively infrequent in the United States.

Of the neurologic diseases that affect horses, EEE has the highest mortality rate. Both of the horses displayed classic signs of EEE: flaccid (droopy) lips, dullness, muscle fasciculation, ataxia and head pressing. One of the horses displayed blindness.

“Highly effective vaccines are available for EEE, Western Equine Encephalitis and West Nile virus. These equine neurologic diseases are preventable with proper vaccination. This is why it is so important to keep your horse current on their vaccinations,” said Terry Hensley, DVM, MS, TVMDL, assistant agency director and Texas AgriLife Extension Service veterinarian.

“According to the attending veterinarians in two of the three cases, horses were unvaccinated. On the Gulf Coast and especially with all the rain we have had, if you choose to vaccinate for any disease, do so for these neurologic diseases.”

Symptoms for neurologic diseases can present similarly; serologic samples were sent to the lab for neurologic testing. According to Dr Hensley, it is hard to diagnose a neurologic case with only clinical symptoms.

The veterinarians requested a variety of tests: Equine Herpesvirus-1, EEE, West Nile virus, Western Equine Encephalitis and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. EEE was confirmed positive for both horses, and all other tests were negative.

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