February 2017
From the State Vet's Office

An Ounce of Prevention

When There Is No Cure

I figure a fair number of you reading this article used to watch "The Beverly Hillbillies." If you did, you probably remember Granny’s Miracle Tonic. I remember, when people would get a cold, they could take a big dose of her tonic and that would cure the cold in seven days. If the patient didn’t take the magic elixir, they were destined to suffer with the cold for a full week. That always drove home two points. First, Granny was just looking for a reason to consume her tonic, which was mostly moonshine. The second point is that the cold virus was going to run its course if you treated it or not.

Things are not terribly different now than when that family from the hills of Tennessee struck it rich and moved to California. For the most part, other than a few antiviral drugs, there are no cures for viral diseases except letting them run their course. I don’t know if that qualifies as a cure. Certainly when we look at a viral disease like Eastern Equine Encephalitis, running its course can be deadly to its host. In fact, 50-90 percent of horses showing neurological signs are going to die. Let me say that a different way. If you own a horse and do not vaccinate it against encephalitis and it contracts the virus, there is a better than average chance it will die. If it doesn’t die, it may sustain such permanent brain damage that it will have to be put down.

I really like horses. I even have one I am trying to train right now. Of course, I think in the end she may be training me. But I enjoy the relationship we can develop with these fine creatures God put on this Earth. Because of that fondness and respect I have for horses, I feel it necessary to get up on as big a soap box as I can find and try to let people know how important it is to vaccinate a horse if you are given the responsibility to assure its well-being. There are a lot of things in life we have absolutely no control over. But preventing viral diseases in horses when a vaccine is readily available ain’t one of them.

One of the most frustrating and aggravating things I remember from my days in practice was when an individual or family would lose a pet, a horse or even a cow or calf for that matter – because they had failed to have the animal vaccinated.

There are laws governing rabies vaccination of dogs and cats, which is a good thing. Just back in the fall, there was a rabid raccoon that attacked a young child just outside Montgomery. The law does not mandate horses be vaccinated for rabies, but, depending where you live, that is probably a good idea.

Spring vaccination of horses should be a ritual practiced by every horse owner, period. What I do recommend is you get with your private-practicing veterinarian and together decide on the vaccination program best suited for your horse and your location; especially if you travel and co-mingle your horse with others. There is absolutely no reason for a horse in Alabama not to be vaccinated against EEE, West Nile virus and tetanus.

I realize tetanus is not a virus, but I am only aware of a couple of horses that made it to the other side of a bout with tetanus and lived to tell about it. And, by the way, those that lived through it had some very intensive and expensive care. The animals had to be tranquilized, kept in a quiet stall and given a lot of medication such as tetanus antitoxin and tube-fed fluids and electrolytes. I can’t even imagine how much that would cost. And you still don’t have a guarantee you will get your horse back alive. I hope I am making a good argument for vaccinating your horses.

In the year 2016 through the middle of December, Alabama had seven confirmed cases of EEE. And, yes, all of those horses were dead at the time they were confirmed positive. I realize seven horses out of the total equine population in the state may be just a speck on the radar screen, but you tell that to those seven horses or the owners. They may have represented only a fraction of a percentage of the equine population, but they are 100 percent dead now.

WNV has also been diagnosed in Alabama, just not last year. WNV got a lot of publicity when it was first diagnosed in the United States. The virus was first found in some crows in New York state back in 1999. Before that, the virus was mostly known to be only in Africa and the Middle East. Anyway, it has seemed to make itself at home here in the United States. And, while the virus is not usually as severe as EEE, it will claim a certain number of lives of equine friends over a period of time.

Just a couple of more things before I sign off. Vaccination does not always equal immunity. That means, just because you vaccinate, it is not a 100 percent insurance policy the disease cannot occur. However, when an animal has been vaccinated for the common equine disease, it sure stacks the deck in the animal’s favor. Second, if sometime down the road you see me somewhere and tell me you read this article and didn’t vaccinate and ended up losing a horse … that is not going to set well with me. The bottom line is to talk to your veterinarian and get those horses vaccinated …… NOW.

Okay, I think I am going outside to try to teach my filly to count to 10.



Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.