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For Immediate Release: September 5, 2000 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic


Agriculture Secretary Art Brown Jr. said today that the death last week of a six-year-old Thoroughbred gelding in Tuckahoe, Cape May County, has been attributed to infection with the West Nile virus (WNV), in conjunction with other medical complications. According to State Veterinarian Dr. Ernest Zirkle, the horse became ill on August 27, showing signs of neurological deficits, weakness, an elevated temperature of 104 F and difficulty rising, all possible signs of equine encephalitis. The horse had not left the farm for the past three months. The horse was euthanized on August 30. Samples from the horse were tested at NJDA's animal health laboratory for both Eastern and Western equine encephalitis as well as equine infectious anemia and WNV. Because the animal had demonstrated some uncharacteristically aggressive behavior, the laboratory at the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) also tested samples for rabies. Preliminary results from this group of tests revealed an elevated titer that was later confirmed as WNV by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa.* Of the diseases tested for, the results confirmed the presence of WNV only. Horses become infected with the WNV when infected mosquitoes bite them. The disease cannot be spread from horse to horse or from an infected horse to humans or domestic pets. Not all horses that contract WNV become ill. Last year, 25 horses on Long Island were clinically ill with neurological signs and there was evidence of WNV infection. Nine of those horses died or were euthanized. However, samples from clinically normal horses that were stablemates of the affected horses showed that more than one-quarter of them had also been infected with WNV but never exhibited any symptoms of the illness. This year, the first horse diagnosed with WNV was located on Staten Island. Since then, a horse in Rhode Island has been diagnosed with the disease. In cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Protection, DHSS and USDA, NJDA has launched a proactive campaign to educate horse owners about the precautions they must take to decrease mosquito habitat, virtually the only way horse owners can minimize the chance of an animal being stricken with WNV. Recommended actions include decreasing mosquito habitats near homes and stable areas by emptying standing water from cans, tires, swimming pool covers, clogged gutters or other reservoirs which can serve as mosquito breeding sites and by frequently changing the fresh water in drinking troughs to prevent them from becoming breeding sites Although there is no preventive vaccine for WNV, equine encephalitis is a reportable disease in New Jersey and is treated symptomatically. Concerned horse owners should contact their veterinarians for additional information or consultation about specific cases of illness in their animals. Last week, DHSS revealed that a 43-year old Jersey City man had tested positive for WNV. He is recuperating at home. To date, 496 birds (495 crows and a cockatiel) found in 10 counties have tested positive for the presence of WNV. Positive birds have been found in Bergen (122), Essex (63), Hudson (48), Mercer (1), Middlesex (114), Monmouth (54), Morris (6), Passaic (36), Somerset (2) and Union (50) Counties. A total of 1,077 crows have been accepted for testing this year. A total of five mosquito pools collected in Bergen County have tested positive for the presence of WNV. More than 1,400 mosquito pools from all 21 counties have been collected by the Rutgers Mosquito Research and Control Unit and tested by DHSS and/or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Blood samples taken weekly from sentinel chicken flocks placed in all 21 counties and tested by NJDA have all been negative for the presence of WNV to date. And blood samples of 1,115 house sparrows collected in Bergen, Passaic and Sussex Counties and tested by the CDC also did not detect WNV. For more information on WNV or mosquito spraying, or to report dead birds and areas of standing water where mosquitoes breed, residents should call their local or county Departments of Health and mosquito control agencies or visit the web sites maintained by DHSS (www.state.nj.us/health), DEP (www.state.nj.us/dep/mosquito), the CDC (www.cdc.gov), and NJDA (www.state.nj.us/agriculture/westnile.htm). _______________________________
* Tests reported by NVSL included a strongly positive capture ELISA WNV IgM, indicating recent exposure to the virus; a positive RT-PCR test (reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) identifying WNV RNA sequences in the brain of the horse; and a specific WNV antibody response as demonstrated by PRNT (plaque reduction neutralization test).