With the onset of the mosquito season, authorities are encouraging horse owners to vaccinate and protect their animals from the West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), diseases that are carried by birds and are transmitted by mosquitoes to humans and horses.

The advice came about as mosquito-borne diseases continue to affect both humans and animals in the U.S. In Maryland, where the prevalence of equine West Nile Virus (WNV) dropped from 234 in 2003 to only 12 between 2004 and 2013, state officials asked horse owners to remain vigilant and vaccinate their animals for the West Nile virus regardless if the horses have already been vaccinated against other mosquito-borne diseases including the eastern equine encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) and Western equine encephalitis (WEE) as these won't provide protection against the West Nile virus.

"Preventing a disease is always less expensive and traumatic than treating it, so we urge horse owners to be proactive now that the weather is warming up and vaccinate their horses," Maryland State Veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus said. "We also remind veterinarians across the state that they must report any cases of equine arboviruses to MDA."

In Oklahoma, which had the most number of horses infected with WNV in 2013, assistant state veterinarian Michael Herrin urged horse owners to contact their veterinarians for information about getting their animals vaccinated.

"There are several vaccines available, and we are encouraging horse owners to visit with their veterinarian and determine the vaccination protocol that will best fit their operation," Herrin told the Associated Press. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry reported that the state had about 40 cases of WNV and EEE that infected horses in the last two years.

West Nile virus can affect humans as well albeit the disease is transmitted to them by mosquitoes and not directly from animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of last year, Oklahoma had 89 human cases of WNV with seven reported deaths. Unlike with horses, no vaccine is available to protect humans from the virus.

Horses that contracted the West Nile virus have difficulty getting up and suffer from fever, incoordination, blindness and seizures. Besides getting horses vaccinated, state officials also advised cleaning up stagnant water as this can be breeding grounds of mosquitoes. Horse owners were also urged to minimize their animal's outdoor exposure at the time of the day when disease carrying mosquitoes are most active.

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