Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus was confirmed in a pet emu housed in Flagler County during the week of March 25, 2019. EEE is a mosquito-borne alphavirus that commonly affects horses, but can also infect humans. Wild birds serve as an unaffected host for the virus, which is transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes to horses and humans. Horses and humans are considered “dead-end” hosts since they cannot produce enough of the virus to spread it to another mosquito and then a horse or human. However, according to John Rey with the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) in Flagler County, an emu can produce substantially more virus in the bloodstream and can potentially pass it on to other hosts or vectors. FDOH in Flagler County is continuing their surveillance in this incident to ensure that no other hosts have been infected.
EEE is a deadly disease that can be controlled through regular vaccinations. Dr. Fisk, a large animal veterinarian in Levy County, recommends vaccinating horses at least twice a year in March and July, preferably with a third vaccination in November. Regular vaccine schedules are essential to build immunity in your horses and to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. If you are not on a regular schedule, you should contact your vet immediately for their recommendations.
Other safety precautions and best management practices include the following:
- Wear insect repellent and protective clothing.
- Remove sources of standing water that serve as mosquito breeding grounds on your property.
- Apply fly masks, fly sheets and/or fly leggings to horses when they are at pasture.
- Spray horses with insect repellent (preferably long-lasting oil-based repellents obtained from your feed store or veterinarian).
- Keep horses inside during peak feeding hours for mosquitoes (generally dawn and dusk).
- Turn fans on in barns for stalled animals or open barn windows to create a breeze. The more powerful the fan, the better the protection.