An alpaca and horse are the fourth and fifth animals in New Jersey this year that have contracted a serious, and often deadly, mosquito-spread disease.
The 7-year-old alpaca in Camden County and 2-year-old gelding horse in Ocean County were diagnosed with eastern equine encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain tissue and, in most cases, kills any animal that acquires it, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday.
The alpaca’s vaccination history was unknown and it was euthanized earlier this month, officials said. The department did not say if the horse was euthanized.
Two other horses in Ocean County and one horse in Monmouth County have also tested positive for the disease and were euthanized “within the last month,” the department said. Last year, New Jersey had five cases of eastern equine encephalitis.
“These cases are reminders that it is imperative for horse and alpaca owners to be vigilant in vaccinating their animals against diseases spread by mosquitoes,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said in a release. “Vaccinated animals are much less likely to contract deadly diseases such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Vaccination is the most effective strategy and effective equine vaccines are available commercially. Horse and alpaca owners should also consider using fans in barns and mosquito repellents.”
Eastern equine encephalitis has a “significantly higher” risk of death in horses and alpacas than West Nile virus, another mosquito-borne viral disease that affects an animal’s neurological system, according to the release.
Humans are unlikely to catch eastern equine encephalitis from horses or alpacas as the animals are considered to be “dead-end” hosts for the virus, but they can get it from mosquitos, officials said.
The Department of Agriculture encouraged all horse owners to have their animals vaccinated against both eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus.
Both viral diseases must be reported to the state veterinarian at 609-671-6400 within 48 hours of diagnosis, the department said.
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