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For Immediate Release: September 20, 2000 Contact:

Hope Gruzlovic


Agriculture Secretary Art Brown Jr. said today that the death last week of an Ocean County horse has been attributed to infection with the West Nile virus (WNV). This is the second equine death attributed to the virus. The first one occurred in August in Cape May County. According to State Veterinarian Dr. Ernest Zirkle, the horse became ill on September 12 and had to be euthanized on September 13. Blood and tissue 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. Virus was found in the brain tissue using the fluorescent antibody technique. 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. In cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health and Senior Services 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.

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).