Crawford County horse dies in first confirmed case of equine West Nile virus in Wisconsin since 2018

Wisconsin has not had any human cases this year, although other states have experienced spikes in the mosquito-borne illness
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(Associated Press)

MADISON, Wis. (WKBT) – An unvaccinated 9-year-old crossbred Belgian/Standardbred gelding in Crawford County has died after contracting West Nile virus — the state’s first confirmed case of the virus in a horse since 2018.

The disease can cause brain inflammation in horses and people, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which confirmed the case.

However, the virus cannot pass directly between people and horses — the only route of transmission is from a mosquito bite, the DATCP says.

The Crawford County horse death is the only confirmed case — human or equine — in the state this year, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Mosquitoes transmit the virus from birds, which are natural reservoirs for the West Nile virus. Because humans and equines acquire the virus from mosquitoes, the threat normally occurs when mosquitoes are most active, from mid-to-late summer until the first killing frost.

The first human cases in the Badger State occurred in 2002, when 52 people contracted the disease. Cases peaked at 57 in 2012 fallen precipitously, with only four reported in 2019, according to the DHS.

But several other states have reported spikes in West Nile virus in recent weeks. Colorado cases are highest since 2016, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. As of last week, 139 Coloradans had contracted the disease, and six had died, the department said.

In Omaha, Neb., Douglas County health authorities reported its third death last month. Eight of the county’s nine cases this year occurred last month.

An extremely wet monsoon season in Arizona has propelled mosquito breeding and contributed to a record-high season for the West Nile virus there, health officials said. Arizona had 123 cases and four deaths through late September, the state Department of Health Services said.

Nearly all of the cases were reported in Maricopa County, where the virus has been detected in record numbers of mosquitoes studied, the department said.

While most people infected with West Nile don’t get symptoms, older people and those with weakened immune systems are more prone to diseases that be fatal.

Health officials  encourage residents to take standard precautions against mosquitoes to avoid becoming infected.

The Wisconsin DATCP encourages equine owners to talk to their veterinarians about vaccinating their horses for West Nile. The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends vaccinating for both WNV and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

More information is available on the DATCP website and the website of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

This story includes information from The Associated Press.

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