West Nile: Hype Or Horror Story’

Read the West-Nile round-up story in this month’s issue. We think you’ll agree it’s a horror story. Although we worked all year to keep you informed — and your horses protected — it’s likely you weren’t really aware that 64 horses were diagnosed with West Nile so far this year. You also may not realize the virus spread to 13 states. Why’

We think it’s because general media coverage of West Nile has been dismal. National coverage died down after the first handful of human cases. Equine cases rarely made the news. Some of this was poor reporting, but we believe much was a deliberate effort by officials to downplay the problem. The public swallowed the propaganda, and the press had more fun covering debates over whether or not it was worth the “environmental harm” to spray for mosquitoes than to take a serious look at the threat this disease posed.

Even ProMed, the premier Internet scientific monitor of international infectious disease activity, operating out of Harvard University, considered stifling West-Nile reporting early in the season. Fortunately, the hue and cry from subscribers with more vision quickly averted that.

Think about it: A virus new to the Western Hemisphere — with no cross protection from other viruses, no vaccine, fatal in 40 to 50% of the horses infected — has surfaced. In one season, it spread from a few well-defined locations in New York to 13 contiguous states along the Eastern Seaboard. You should worry.

Current early-warning systems are so poor that in several instances a dead horse was the first indication the virus was active in an area — that means there were no prior positive birds, humans or mosquitoes noted.

Should you panic’ No. It’s a worthless reaction. However, officials seem to feel you are only capable of panic and must be kept comfortably uninformed about it.

Make no mistake. West Nile is here to stay and poses a threat to every horse in the infected areas and to many others in the not-too-distant future. If your head’s in the sand, pull it out.

For preventative measures, see our March 2000 issue. We’ll also work to keep you informed of advances in protection and concerns over spread. While older horses remain at the highest risk, every horse should be protected.

’Til Next Month,

-Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD

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