First Confirmed Case

August 7, 2002

REYNOLDSBURG - Recent lab test results confirmed the first case of West Nile Virus in an Ohio horse stabled in Holmes County, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said today. This is the first horse found to be infected with the virus in Ohio.

The owner of the horse first noticed the animal had rear leg lameness on July 19, according to state Agriculture Director Fred L. Dailey. After the horse?s condition deteriorated, the owner sought veterinary intervention. The attending veterinarian collected blood samples and submitted them to the Ohio Department of Agriculture?s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, which forwarded them on July 29 to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for testing. The horse has been euthanized. The names of the owner and veterinarian are not being released for privacy reasons.

Although this was a clinical case in which the owner observed sickness in the animal prompting a diagnostic blood test, the state agriculture department routinely assists in the testing of horses and birds as part of the state?s efforts to monitor and prevent the spread of West Nile Virus. Last July, a blue jay was the first positive indicator that West Nile virus had officially arrived in Ohio.

Horses are "sentinels" of the disease rather than carriers; that is, mosquitoes do not pick up the virus from infected horses. Horse owners should watch for signs of infection by the virus in their animals and should consult a veterinarian if those signs are present. For example, infected horses might experience loss of appetite, fever, weakness, or paralysis of hind limbs, impaired vision, loss of coordination, aimless wandering, convulsions, inability to swallow, circling, hyper-excitability, or coma. The disease can be fatal in horses. Owners should consult with their veterinarians to consider vaccinating horses against the virus.

Public health authorities continue disease and vector surveillance activities, and the public should adopt effective safeguards against the virus, including eliminating conditions in which mosquitoes can breed.

Primarily a wild-bird disease, WNV is a mosquito-borne virus, which generally causes mild symptoms that mimic the flu in humans. In rare instances, however, WNV can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) in humans. This happens in less than 1 percent of people bitten by an infected mosquito. Those over age 50 and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible to the serious complications related to the virus.

Ohio Department of Health Director J. Nick Baird, M.D., is urging all Ohioans to protect themselves and their loved ones from mosquito bites and to remove standing water from their property.

"Because WNV is entrenched in Ohio, we all need to follow some simple steps to help protect ourselves from mosquito bites," Baird said. "By following this advice, we can minimize West Nile?s impact on Ohio?s health."

The state operates two toll-free telephone information lines to handle questions from the public about West Nile virus. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has a toll-free line for animal health questions, 800-300-9755, staffed 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays by the department?s Division of Animal Industry staff. Questions regarding human health should be directed to the Ohio Department of Health?s toll-free line, 866-634-2968, staffed 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m weekdays by state health department personnel.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Health are members of the Ohio West Nile Virus Workgroup. Other members are the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Association of Ohio Health Commissioners, Ohio Mosquito Control Association, Ohio Environmental Health Association, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.