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Vaccinate horses for West Nile

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POSTED: August 3, 2011 2:30 p.m.

One of the few good things a drought brings is a reduction in mosquitoes. Now that the rain has returned, so have the mosquitoes. In the cushy, comfortable lives we have grown accustomed to, we seem to forget that mosquitoes are not just a nuisance. Gnats are a nuisance. Mosquitoes can kill you.
The mosquito-transmitted diseases of yellow fever and malaria wiped out substantial proportions of Savannah’s residents in the 1800s. Savannah’s Mosquito Control Commission is one of the very best on the planet. If it did not do such a good job, Savannah would not be the success that it is. It is not hyperbole to say that Coastal Georgia would not be fit for human habitation if mosquitoes were not controlled. Good mosquito control is a prerequisite for living on the Georgia coast.
The responsibility for mosquito control does not fall entirely on the shoulders of the mosquito-control commissions. We each have a personal responsibility to control mosquitoes on our property and protect ourselves from them.
I have talked to a couple local mosquito-control directors. One of their pet peeves is the residents who call and complain about being bitten by mosquitoes, but then reveal that they are not even wearing repellant. Big “Duh!”
Folks, we are living in coastal south Jawjuh. We have mosquitoes. If you get bit, it is your own fault for not having an immediate grasp of the obvious.
Those of you with horses have an additional responsibility to get your animals vaccinated. Dr. Nancy Hinkle, associate professor of entomology, sent out the following warning alert statewide last week: “West Nile virus is showing up early in Georgia this year. Horses are highly vulnerable to this disease, and over a third of horses that get West Nile die. There is no treatment. If your horse has not already been vaccinated this year, call your veterinarian now and make an appointment to get the West Nile (and Eastern equine encephalitis) vaccination. A third of horses infected with West Nile virus will die; a third of those that survive will be paralyzed or have to be euthanized.”
For the math majors out there, that means that WNV kills a little more than half of the horses that contract the disease.
“There is no West Nile vaccine for humans,” the warning alert continues.
Let me repeat that: There is no West Nile vaccine for humans.
 “So disease prevention must rely on avoiding mosquitoes. Wear long sleeves, long pants and insect repellent when outdoors,” the alert states. “Encourage your neighbors to pour out any standing water in the community (Mosquito larvae can complete their development in less than a cup of water in a tin can). Standing water that cannot be drained (ditches, for instance) can be treated with ‘mosquito dunks’ or ‘mosquito donuts’ (containing the nontoxic mosquito larva killer Bti). Cut back bushes and shrubs to increase airflow around the home and discourage mosquito flight.”
If the mosquito truck comes rolling down your street, you should pay attention. Mosquito spraying is done only after larvae sampling and identification have confirmed that an outbreak of adult mosquitoes is imminent. Learn to take a hint. Check your property for standing water and do what you can to drain it or treat it.
Some people die for noble causes. Some people die in accidents they did not cause. And some people die of stupidity. Dying of a mosquito-borne disease when you live in the United States in the 21st century definitely fits in that last category. The only circumstance worse than that is to let the horse that has entrusted its life to you die of a disease so easily preventable.
The folks in and around Louisville, Ky., have a little different slant on EEE and WNV than we do. We use horses as a sentinel species to warn us of mosquito disease outbreak so we can protect the humans. They use humans as a sentinel species to tell them when to protect the horses. Maybe we humans just need a good dose of horse sense.

Gardner is the extension agent for Bryan County and can be reached at dgardner@uga.edu.

 

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