Mid-Missouri Horse Owners Take Precautions to Avoid West Nile Infections (pkg)

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COLUMBIA - Area horse owners said Thursday they are taking precautions, but not too worried about a warning of the dangers of West Nile Virus issued this week by MU veterinarians. Horses are vulnerable to the mosquito-spread disease, though the state reported just five cases in the state in 2010. Extensive rain, flooding and warm temperatures have created prime conditions for mosquitoes this year. 

Erica Harvey, owner of Newman Stables in Kingdom City, said she was worried and taking precautions to prevent the disease from getting to her farm.

"We try to make sure there's no standing water around," she said. "We stir up the lake as much as we can."

Spraying horses with a chemical to discourage flies and other bugs is another way to help stop the spread of the virus. Horse owners can also change water in troughs frequently to dispose of environments that promote mosquito breeding. Vaccinations are available for West Nile Virus; according to the MU press release, owners should vaccinate their horses annually. 

Some infected horses don't show any symptoms, but owners should watch for fever, ataxia (lack of coordination), muscle twitching or weakness, head pressing (when a horse uses its head to push against an object to stay balanced), depression or apprehension, reduced appetite or vision, inability to stand or swallow, general unusual behavior, excessive tiredness or convulsions. 

Dr. Philip Johnson, an MU equine veterinarian, said there is no way to treat the actual disease of West Nile Virus, only the symptoms. Horses can recover from WNV, especially those vaccinated against the virus.