- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma horse owners are being encouraged to vaccinate their animals against the West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry reports about 40 cases in each of the past two years in which horses in the state have been infected with the diseases. They are often carried by birds and transferred to mosquitoes, which spread the viruses through their bites.

“Signs of West Nile virus include weakness, fever, incoordination, seizures, blindness and difficulty getting up,” said assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Michael Herrin. “There are several vaccines available, and we are encouraging horse owners to visit with their veterinarian and determine the vaccination protocol that will best fit their operation.”

The West Nile virus also can be spread to humans. There were 89 human West Nile cases, with seven deaths, in 2013 in Oklahoma, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is no vaccine to prevent the disease in humans, according to the CDC.

The risk of the viruses can be reduced by eliminating places where mosquitoes breed, such as standing water, according to the Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department.

Water should not be allowed to stagnate in birdbaths or water tanks, and wheelbarrows should be turned over when not in use. Any containers needed for constant use, such as water troughs, should be emptied and flushed twice a week in order to prevent them from becoming mosquito breeding grounds, state officials said.

And, when possible, owners should reduce horses’ outdoor exposure at dawn and dusk, the times of day when mosquitoes that transmit the West Nile virus are most active.

Humans can lessen the chance of being bitten by mosquitoes by using insect repellents containing DEET when outdoors and by wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors, particularly between dusk and dawn, the CDC said.

Most people infected with West Nile virus develop no symptoms, the CDC said, but about 20 percent will develop a fever with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash.

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