Why Are Preventable Diseases Still Killing Our Horses?

We have vaccines. Gen Anne Griffin makes a plea for all horse owners to use them.

From Gen:

The Associated Press has reported a second confirmed case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in Bay County, Florida. The first case occurred earlier this fall, prompting the Department of Agriculture to send one of its officers door-to-door to all horse owners in the area, urging vaccination. Tragically, not all local horse owners took the warning to heart and a second animal has lost its life to this preventable disease.

The USDA tracks the number of confirmed cases of EEE that occur in the United States every year. The disease primarily occurs in the southeastern part of the country, with Florida consistently ranking as one of the states with the highest number of incidents each year. Other states that regularly see multiple confirmed cases of EEE include Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Though most cases of EEE do occur in the south, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York have also reported confirmed cases of EEE almost every year during the last 10 years. The USDA reported 712 confirmed cases of EEE in 2003, and while the number of confirmed incidents dipped as low as 60 in 2011, EEE appears to once again be on the rise.


U.S. EEE cases, 2013 (draft data)
Total cases as of November 13, 2013 – 179.
Source: USDA

As a horse owner, reports of highly contagious diseases with a 75-90 percent mortality rate are frightening, especially when they occur on your home turf. Even a rumor about EEE, West Nile or any of the other big, scary and almost always fatal diseases should rightfully send everyone scurrying to the veterinarian’s office, tack store or local feed shop for a cooler full of booster vaccinations.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners lists the vaccine for EEE, as well as those for Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE), Tetanus, Rabies and West Nile, as a core vaccination for all horse owners. This means that horse owners should be vaccinating annually against these diseases, regardless of where they are located. Horses in areas which are at high risk for EEE/WEE should be vaccinated every six months, with one of the vaccinations occurring in the spring. The vaccinations are highly effective at preventing the disease.

The fact that EEE is so preventable is a large part of what makes the deaths attributed to this disease truly sad. The horses who die from EEE and other preventable diseases are almost always dying because their owners chose not to vaccinate.


Colourised transmission electron micrograph depicting a salivary gland extracted from an EEE carrier mosquito, with the virus colored red and magnified 83,900x. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The excuses for not vaccinating a horse are predictable. Owners claim to be unaware horses need vaccinations, or to have thought the horse already had his vaccinations. Owners may even claim vaccinations or a farm call from the veterinarian were prohibitively expensive. Some owners have even been known to say that their own inability to give a shot was their reason for allowing their horse to go without a vaccination that, in hindsight, he desperately needed.

Ignorance is a poor excuse for not vaccinating. Surely, most horse owners have access to a smart phone or the internet on a tablet or computer. The AAEP guidelines for horse vaccination are easily accessible with a quick Google search on “horse vaccinations.” Even for those not online, a quick call to the veterinarian or even a chat with the person behind the counter at your local feed store should yield the basics of vaccinating a horse. Yes, you need to vaccinate. Yes, your vet can do it for you if you don’t want to try it yourself.

Poor record keeping also seems like a lousy excuse for failing to vaccinate in a timely manner. You should not even bring a new horse home without proof that he is up to date on his vaccinations. If you are unsure, vaccinate him when you get him and make a note of it in a calendar that you use regularly. Use the calendar on your cell phone to mark the dates you vaccinated your horses and set reminders for the next time you need to vaccinate. If you have your veterinarian vaccinate your horses, ask his staff to schedule a reminder for you so that they will call you to set up an appointment the next time your horses are due. Keep records of every vaccination your horse receives along with the the date of vaccination in your barn. Store them in a binder or folder with your coggins tests and registration papers.

Price should also not be an issue. If you can afford to own horses, you can afford to vaccinate them. If you can not afford vaccines, you do not need horses. Vaccinations are not expensive, especially when the cost is compared the value of your horse’s life and the expensive veterinary bills that you will rack up if your horse gets sick. Jeffers Equine sells a single dose vaccine for EEE/WEE and Tetanus for less than $10. The entire round of annual core vaccinations rarely costs more than $150 dollars and often far less, especially if you choose to vaccinate your horses by yourself at home. If you are not comfortable giving vaccinations, chances are that you know someone who is and who will be willing to help you protect your horses’ lives.


Equiloid Innovator®, protects against EEE/WEE and Tetanus. $8.99 from Jeffers.

There are also folks who feel vaccinating their horses is not worth the risk of an adverse reaction to the vaccine. This can be a real concern if your horse has a history of vaccine sensitivity and, in this case, vaccines should be handled by your veterinarian on a case-by-case basis. Most horses do not suffer any significant reaction after being vaccinated.

The point is, your horse should not pay for your laziness or ignorance with his life. While it is true that only a small percentage of horses fall victim to diseases such as EEE every year, there is no reason to play the odds. Vaccinations make you a winner and keep your horse healthy, every time.

Please, please vaccinate your horses and stop these unnecessary deaths from preventable diseases.

Gen Anne Griffin is a freelance writer with a lifelong passion for horses. Gen Anne enjoys using her 15 years of equine experience to share both knowledge and common horse-sense with the horse community as a whole. Gen Anne lives in Florida with her amazing husband, two wonderful sons and Romy, the palomino Quarter Horse she grew up with.



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