Encephalitis a Threat to Horses and Humans

The pain of losing Millennium Black Top is still fresh two days after a veterinarian had to put Elizabeth Moody's 20 month old colt to sleep. The suspected cause is encephalitis, but tests haven't confirmed that.

"We've all cried very hard, but he was suffering so badly," Moody says. "It is the worst horrible death you can ever watch. When he finally released and relaxed and was gone, we were relieved."

Horses can be vaccinated against encephalitis. Moody says her three other horses are up to date on their shots, but she says Millennium Black Top's allergies may have weakened his immunity. Now she's closely watching to make sure her horses don't get sick, and she wants other horse owners to do the same.

"They really need to pay close attention. Spray their horses with the fly spray and try to keep standing water away from them and all the things that mosquitoes are attracted to."

People can get encephalitis, if they're bitten by an infected mosquito. Health Department officials say there is no vaccination, so you should protect yourself particularly against morning and evening biting mosquitoes.

"It's going to be a clothes issue, it's going to be staying away from mosquito infested areas morning and evening and it's going to be making sure your screens are good, just a lot of things," Dr. Bob Travnicek of the Mississippi Health Department said.

Travnicek said good mosquito defense is especially important this is the time of year when people and horses are most at risk.

There are several different strains of encephalitis. The most recent is called West Nile Virus. Officials with Harrison County Mosquito Control say they are using six trucks to spray countywide every night.