The recent death of a horse should serve as a warning that West Nile Virus is active in the Red Deer area, say veterinarians.
Dr. Marcos Lores, a partner in the Alberta Veterinary Centre has issued a statement announcing that a horse treated at his practice had succumbed on Aug. 31 to the disease, which is carried by infected mosquitoes.
It is one of only three horses affected in Alberta this year. There were none reported last year.
Lores was not available for comment on Tuesday. However, another veterinarian who works with him said the horse died of the severe, neurological form of the disease, which affects both horses and people.
Dr. Charlotte MacFarlane said people may feel safe now that the weather has cooled. However, she and her partners are cautioning people to continue their vigilance to protect themselves and their horses from the disease, including having the horses vaccinated against the virus.
It is not to late to begin the vaccination regimen for horses, including an initial shot followed by a booster in three to six weeks.
Once the horses have had their first shots, the West Nile vaccine can be included with their annual shots, said MacFarlane. Any vaccines delivered now will still offer protection at the start of the season next year, she said.
At roughly $40 per horse, the vaccine is relatively inexpensive protection against a disease that can cost thousands of dollars to treat, said MacFarlane.
Dr. Gerald Hauer, chief provincial veterinarian for Alberta, said he has received confirmation so far of two other cases of West Nile disease in horses so far this year after having none reported at all in 2011.
The other two cases were at Barrhead and Edmonton, said Hauer.
One of the horses has recovered while the other died, he said.
Reports of the disease typically start to arrive during the period from mid-August to late November, indicating that some mosquitoes remain active despite colder temperatures and overnight frosts, said Hauer.
It is possible that they are surviving in protected areas such as barns, he said.
Hauer joined MacFarlane in stating that owners can protect their animals by limiting exposure to the disease as much as possible and by ensuring that their horses’ immunity systems are in good order, including keeping the horses vaccinated and dewormed and providing proper nourishment.
Humans should also do everything they can to avoid mosquito bites, said Dr. Digby Horne, one of three medical officers of health for the Alberta Health Services Central Zone.
Horne said there has been only one report of the disease affecting humans in the Central Zone so far this year and that the likelihood of more infections will reduce with colder weather.
However, he also stated that some mosquitoes may survive the cold and that it takes just one bite to pick up an infection.
Horne said some people can be infected without experiencing any signs while others may experience headache and fever. Medical attention should be sought as soon as possible for anyone who experiences signs of the neurological form, including tingling in a limb, loss of balance and paralysis.
So far, Horne said he has heard no indication of a vaccine for humans.
West Nile is transferred by mosquitoes that have picked up the virus from infected birds. The mosquitoes do not pass the disease between infected horses or humans.
Alberta Health Services was to slated to release an update today of the status of the disease within the province, said Horne.