116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Heavy rains and mild flooding earlier this month left standing water across parts of Iowa, a condition ripe for mosquitos and the spread of the West Nile virus.
Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey recently urged horse owners to make sure their animals have been vaccinated against the West Nile virus. Local equine veterinarians say most horses they see are vaccinated in the spring, the ideal time before mosquitos – who transmit the virus to horses – come out for the summer.
In 2012, Iowa had 36 confirmed West Nile virus cases in horses, but veterinarians and Northey are quick to point out that in most cases the infected horses had not been vaccinated and a few had only received the first dose of the vaccine. Iowa had only one confirmed case in a horse in 2011.
Equine veterinarians like Melissa Holcomb, a doctor at Abraham's Equine Clinic, say a tough economy can cause people to skimp on vaccines to save money leaving more horses susceptible to contract West Nile. Holcomb's clinic has administered 1,000 doses of the vaccine since the beginning of the year.
“It's a little over $20,” she said. “A very cheap way to make sure your horse doesn't die from a treatable disease.”
A horse receives a series of two shots the first time they get the West Nile vaccine followed by an annual booster. Kirk Heisterkamp, a veterinarian at River Basin Equine Veterinary Services, said it generally takes two weeks for the vaccine to kick in.
West Nile virus has been in the United States since 1999 and can infect birds, horses, dogs, humans, and several other animal species.
Heisterkamp said symptoms in horses include muscle tremors in their face, front legs, and the pectoral region and can progress to weakness and the inability to stand. He said the best way to ensure protection against the virus is communicating with a local veterinarian.
“We encourage people to relate to their veterinarians and allow their veterinarians to advise them and lead them in their horse's health,” he said.
Bill Paynter, president of the Iowa Horse Council, vaccinated his three mules before taking a trip out west over the weekend. Paynter said there is a lot of awareness in the horse community about the risk of West Nile and most take the proper measures to protect their animals.
“A lot of horses are more companion than livestock for people,” the 77-year-old said. “It's like their dog; anything to keep them safe, then they want to do it.”