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Horse dies of complications of West Nile virus

June 25, 2008 | 10:08 am

A 15-year-old horse has died of complications from West Nile virus in Riverside County, City News Service reports, marking the first equine victim of the mosquito-borne disease in California this year. The announcement was made today by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999 in New York City, according to Steve Lyle of the CDFA. The virus can cause a range of illnesses from mild "flu-like" symptoms to encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which can be fatal to humans as well as horses.

The CDFA urged horse owners to keep their animal vaccinations current. While horses are susceptible to the virus, many infected animals will not develop any illnesses and eventually recover, Lyle said.

Signs of the virus in horses include stumbling, staggering, loss of coordination, muscle twitching, circling and the inability to stand, he said. Birds are the primary carriers of the disease. Mosquitoes that feed on infected birds can spread the virus to humans and horses, Lyle said. No evidence suggests the virus can be spread horse to horse or horse to human, he said.

In 2007, 28 cases of equine West Nile virus were documented. That compares with 58 cases the previous years. In 2004, 540 equine cases were reported, with more than 40% of those horses dying or being euthanized, Lyle said.

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