The California Department of Food and Agriculture confirmed Aug. 23 that four California horses have been diagnosed with West Nile virus (WNV): two in Sacramento County and one each in Kern and Placer counties. Two of the horses were euthanized due to the severity of their neurologic signs, and two are receiving supportive care.
WNV transmission occurs when infected mosquitoes feed on animals, as well as humans, after having fed on infected birds.
Clinical signs of WNV in horses include:
- Mild anorexia and depression;
- Fine and coarse muscle and skin fasciculation (twitching);
- Hyperesthesia (hypersensitivity to touch and sound);
- Changes in mentation (mentality), when horses look like they’re daydreaming or “just not with it”;
- Occasional drowsiness;
- Propulsive walking (driving or pushing forward, often without control); and
- Spinal signs, including asymmetrical weakness; and
- Asymmetrical or symmetrical ataxia (incoordination).
West Nile virus has no cure; however, some horses can recover with supportive care. Equine mortality rates can reach 30-40%. The American Association of Equine Practitioners includes WNV as one of the core diseases all horses should be vaccinated against at least annually.