Rare virus diagnosed in Webster County

By Daniel Brunty
Webster Progress Times

A local veterinarian has diagnosed a rare viral disease similar to the West Nile virus in Webster County.
 
Dr. Joe Duncan, owner of Duncan Veterinary Clinic of Eupora, was called out to a farm in Webster County on Sept. 11 in regards to treating a sick horse on the property. After an examination of the animal, Duncan had samples of the animal sent to be tested at the Mississippi State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.
 
After receiving the results of the tests a week later, it was determined that the horse was infected with the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus.
 
“We really thought it would probably be West Nile because Eastern is very rare,” Duncan said. “This disease is rarely seen in Mississippi, but this is the second case the county has seen in the last 12 years.”
 
Eastern Equine Encephalitis is a rare but serious viral disease spread by mosquitoes that can affect humans and horses. The illness is rare in humans, and only a few cases are reported in the United States each year. Most cases occur in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.
 
Duncan stated that this case has already been reported to the Mississippi Department of Health. “As soon as we got a positive back on this, they were calling us wanting all the information regarding the location of the horse, so it is a reportable human disease to even the human side.”
 
Duncan also gave symptoms that a horse with EEE may display.
 
“You have a horse that may act like it is drunk, just stands in a corner with its head tucked in, or it can even have seizures and roll around on the ground, which is where this horse had gotten to this point when we saw it,” Duncan said. “If they have any of these symptoms, and at this time of year, it is one of those things where you need to be on the lookout.”
 
Fortunately for horse owners, they have the opportunity to avoid this occurrence. “It is all totally preventable because there is a vaccine that covers Eastern, Western, Venezuelan and West Nile altogether,” Duncan said.
 
Duncan wants the public to be aware of this case, emphasizing the method by which it is transferred as well as the seriousness of the severity of the disease. EEE is one of the most severe mosquito-transmitted diseases in the United States, and there is no specific treatment for it.
 
However, proper prevention can decrease your risk drastically. Some tips that can help are using insect repellent, wearing protective clothing, staying indoors while mosquitoes are most active and staying away from mosquito-infested areas.
 
To know if you may have a case of EEE, symptoms include a sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting. It may then progress into disorientation, seizures and/or encephalitis.
 
“It just magnifies the fact that people need to keep some type of repellant on for mosquitoes because you can catch this, not from the horses but from the mosquitos that carry it to the horse,” Duncan said. “At the same point in time, it is a good idea to go ahead and vaccinate horses for it as well.”
 
If you think you or a family member may have EEE, it is important to consult your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis. To learn more about this disease, you may visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis or the Mississippi Department of Health website at www.msdh.state.ms.us.