and The Associated Press
California's horse owners should vaccinate their animals against the West Nile virus before the disease hits the state with full force this summer, veterinarians are saying.
"I am highly recommending all of my clients have their horses vaccinated this year," veterinarian Wes Wittman of Sonora said this morning. "We will get the disease in California this year. I don't think there is any doubt about that."
While only 1 percent of humans infected with West Nile virus become seriously ill or die, the disease is fatal to as many as a third of all horses that contract it, said Gregory Ferraro, director of the University of California, Davis, Center for Equine Health. Those that survive can suffer from long-term or permanent disabilities.
"I would vaccinate my own horses," said veterinarian Craig Aure of the Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital. "The vaccine is relatively inexpensive, and the mortality rate is very high."
He said the vaccine is given in two injections, three to four weeks apart, and it must be given by a veterinarian rather than purchased from a feed store.
The cost of each injection is about $25 locally, the veterinarians said. But statewide, the two-shot series is averaging between $70 and $100.
Aure said researchers are still trying to find out how many ways the disease can be carried. Wittman said one known way of spreading the virus is from birds, through mosquitoes.
"These aren't migratory birds," Whitman said. "It is the family of birds that includes the crow, raven, magpie and blue jay."
He said it is especially important to get the vaccination before mosquito season starts in spring.
Aure said there have been no physical reactions to the vaccine.
"It is a safe vaccine for horses," he said.
Since the virus was first reported in New York in 1999, it has spread westward quickly. It first appeared in California last summer, where a single case involving a horse was reported. A single human case also was reported. Health officials remain uncertain how that person was infected.
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