Virus keeps veterinarians busy giving vaccinations
Besides birds, horses are most vulnerable to the virus
Dan Ramberg said the thousands of dollars he has spent this year to vaccinate his 200 riding horses from the West Nile virus is a small price compared with the potentially deadly effects of the mosquito-borne disease.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Ramberg, owner of Woodloch Stable in Hugo and Bunker Park Stable in Coon Rapids.
Veterinarians around Minnesota have been busy, using up their stockpile of the West Nile vaccine after the first two confirmed cases of the virus were reported Minnesota. Two dead crows -- one in Golden Valley and the other in Isle near Mille Lacs Lake -- were infected with the disease, state health officials said July 24.
Besides birds and humans, horses are the most vulnerable to the virus.
Disease is sometimes fatal
More than 700 equine cases of West Nile were reported nationwide in 2001, according to the state health department. Nearly one-third of the cases resulted in death.
On July 23, Dr. Donna Rued, of River Valley Veterinary Services, visited the Shamrock Valley Farm near Stillwater to vaccinate their foals.
The farm's owners, Lisa Kronstedt and Bob Dainty, already had vaccinated their thoroughbred mares last spring, including four that they race as champions at Canterbury Downs.
"There is peace of mind in vaccinating," Dainty said.
Kronstedt added, "It's not just the money; it's the time and who they are to us."
West Nile tests are being conducted on two horses, one in Hennepin County, the other in Clay County. Minnesota has an estimated 57,000 horses.
Rued said she worries about horses in family settings that haven't been vaccinated.
"All of the big barns are aware of it and are protected," she said. "The small back-yard horse owners are more susceptible because they don't have barns. Those horses sleep outside, where all of the mosquitoes can get at them."
Dr. Terry Arnesen, owner of the Stillwater Veterinary Clinic, said the disease has spread more quickly than anticipated. He, like Rued and many other veterinarians, stocked up on the vaccine last winter.
So far this year, Anoka Equine Veterinary Service, the largest horse clinic in the state, has vaccinated 85 percent to 90 percent of the 5,000 or so horses it services, said Dr. Kim Voller.
"We have been urging our clients to vaccinate against it, but we haven't had to urge them much," Voller said. "They've heard it's moving this way."
Each day, Kronstedt said she hoses down their horses, washing off mosquito-attracting sweat. She then sprays them with insect repellent and turns buckets upside down.
The pond and creek on their farm and the lake just behind it provide water that helps mosquitoes breed. And each day, the couple sees 20 to 30 crows and many more birds flying around the farm. Now those birds could be potential carriers of the West Nile virus.
"You just take the preventative measures," Dainty said. "Vaccinate and pay attention to your surroundings the best you can and hope you don't contract anything."