Rainy Season Brings West Nile Virus

All this rain means mosquitoes are soon on their way. Health officials say now is the time to start taking precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses. Six people died of West Nile last year and more than 100 horses contracted the disease. Many horse owners aren't taking simple precautions to protect them.

Mike Purvis is a veterinarian and a horse owner. His quarter horse “Doc” is almost fully recovered from a bout of West Nile virus that nearly killed him, but it's taken a long time.

Back in 2001, Doc was collapsing from his symptoms. Vaccines are now available for horses, but many owners still aren't vaccinating regularly, especially for horses brought in from out of state.

West Nile has already shown up in at least one horse in Polk County. Nineteen counties around the state are reporting West Nile activity. Up to 25 percent of horses that contract West Nile will die.

Eastern Equine Encephalitis, another mosquito-borne illness, kills 90 percent of its victims.

Bill Jeter with the Florida Department of Agriculture says it doesn't have to happen.

“It’s certainly always disappointing when horse owners fail to protect their horses when the cost of the vaccine is negligible compared to the loss or the death of an animal.”

Several companies are working on developing a human vaccine against West Nile virus, but for now your best protection remains mosquito repellant.

There are approximately 225,000 horses in Florida. That industry brings in $2 billion a year to the economy.