VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - A dangerous mosquito-borne virus has been found in the Hoosier state. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or triple E, was detected in three horses and a group of mosquitoes in northern Indiana (Elkhart County).
No Indiana residents have been diagnosed with the virus, however, 21 cases have been confirmed in six different states and five of those cases have resulted in death.
Normally, there are only seven to 10 cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis per year in the United States. That's why the increase to 21 cases already this year is causing concern. Experts say this is a rare yet dangerous virus.
Veterinarian Dr. Jim Holscher of Airport Veterinary Clinic in Terre Haute says this virus has been around for many years. What many people don't know is that this virus incubates in birds. Mosquitoes bite birds and then transport it to horses or humans. Experts say it's the most dangerous virus a horse can get in the U.S.
"Every year there's a flare-up," Dr. Holscher, "Usually it's late summer and into the fall."
"It affects the nervous system so it goes to the brain and causes neurological symptoms," Associate professor of Equine Studies at Saint Mary of the Woods College Dr. Debra Powell said, "Usually if horses get that particular form their chances of survival maybe 10%."
Nine cases in horses have been confirmed throughout the United States and all of those horses died. It's important to know that this virus is only spread by mosquitoes. it can't be spread horse to horse or person to person. In both animals and humans, the most susceptible are the very young or very old.
The symptoms are the same in horses as they are in humans. They include fever, chills, muscle, and joint pain, and, in severe cases, swelling of the brain or even comatose and seizures. According to the CDC, 30% of people infected with the virus die and many survivors experience ongoing neurological problems.
There are vaccinations for horses that are included in the regular vaccination cycle. Dr. Holscher says these vaccinations are very good and protect animals. There are, however, no vaccinations for people. Experts advise avoiding mosquitoes as best as you can.
"Horses are a lot more susceptible to it than any of the other species just like people," Holscher said.
"We just have to be really diligent in controlling the breeding areas for the mosquitoes," Dr. Powell added, "Vaccinations are important and especially vaccinating at the right time."