The Iowa Department of Agriculture reports there have been 20 confirmed cases of the West Nile Virus in horses this year compared to just one confirmed case in horses last year. State Veterinarian, David Schmitt, says the increase in cases in horses can be directly attributed to the owners not taking proper precautions against the disease.

“These individuals are unvaccinated, a couple of cases they only had one vaccination where the vaccine is recommended to have two doses. So there are unprotected individuals that are getting bitten by infected mosquitoes,” Schmitt says. When horses get infected they can be noticed stumbling, they fall down and can’t get up off the ground, and Dr. Schmitt says they may not recover.

“It certainly can be fatal and there have been some deaths associated with this as far as in the horses,”Schmitt says. He says the virus infects the brain of the animals and they get to where they can’t eat. Dr. Schmitt says the cause is pretty clear and preventable.

“It’s a virus that’s transmitted by biting mosquitoes that are carrying the virus, so the animals cannot shed it laterally to other horses in the pen. Those horses that are affected cannot shed it…to humans, it is only (spread) through the bite of an infected mosquito,” Schmitt explains.

The increased number of cases of West Nile in horses is a warning to the animal owners and humans that the mosquitoes carrying the virus are still active and you should take prevention measures. “We encourage owners to vaccinate their horses because there is a good vaccine that is out there that has been used for several years. Definitely there’s other precautions that owners might want to take to control mosquitoes,” Schmitt says.

The Iowa Department of Public Health says it’s also a warning for humans to continue taking precautions until a hard frost kills off the mosquitoes. Nineteen Iowans in sixteen counties have been diagnosed with West Nile virus in 2012. No West Nile virus-related deaths have been reported this year. Last year, there were nine human cases with two deaths.

For more information on West Nile virus and to see a map of activity in the state, visit: