A Plumas County horse has become the first in California infected this year with West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease that killed 28 people and 230 horses in the state last year, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reported Wednesday.
The 3-year-old quarter horse mare is recovering in a location 125 miles northeast of Sacramento, said state officials, who declined to identify its owner.
This season's first equine report of the often-fatal virus comes a month earlier than last year and highlights its growing threat in California, a state that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts will again be the national epicenter in 2005. West Nile has been reported in 21 California counties since January, said state officials.
The virus already has killed at least 70 birds this spring. Mosquitoes feed on infected birds and spread the virus to horses and humans.
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As of Wednesday, the state had reported no human infections in 2005. In 2004, state health officials reported 830 human infections and 3,232 dead birds.
Nationally, 1,341 horses were infected, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At its height nationally in 2002, more than 15,000 horses had West Nile.
State officials urged horse owners to consult with veterinarians.
"If the horse has been vaccinated, make sure it's current. If not, have them vaccinated," said CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle.
Vaccines cost about $26 per dose and are given twice yearly after an initial booster shot, said Aime Norgauer, who works at Grantline Veterinary Hospital in Elk Grove.
"The majority of people do vaccinate their horses," she said. "But some people are behind in the vaccine for some reason. Some say they don't know about it, and other people can't afford it. It's something I would feel is most important for horses right now."
The CDFA said signs of West Nile virus in horses include staggering, stumbling, muscle twitching, loss of coordination and inability to stand. Infected horses do not spread the disease to other horses or humans, officials said.
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