The dance of the mosquito

Farm Forum

Late July and August is a high-risk time of year for exposure to mosquitoes, especially while we are enjoying trail rides, picnics and campfires. Those calculating, acrobatic insects are able to prod even the calmest and coolest of us to break out into the maniacal dance of the mosquito. You know the dance, the one where you dart about frantically waving your arms around your head, cursing that dang insect that is incessantly buzzing directly in your ear. You can hardly see the flying beast, but you know it is there. Even when we are desperately trying to evade the bite of the agile insect, often it is a losing battle.

In Sibley County, Minnesota, a young horse has been afflicted with West Nile Virus, a serious viral infection transmitted by mosquitoes. This is the first confirmed case of this virus in Minnesota this year. West Nile Virus lives in the bird population in the U.S. and is transmitted to humans and animals by mosquitoes. In the animal population, horses and birds are most commonly affected. In horses, decreased activity, weakness, brain swelling and paralysis are consequences of infection. Not every horse that is bitten by a mosquito will be infected and show signs of the disease. In 2015, 225 horses were infected with West Nile Virus in the U.S. with the highest amount of cases in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, California, Washington, and Colorado.

West Nile Virus is a very difficult virus to treat in horses and has the possibility of becoming fatal. Fortunately, an effective vaccine is available to minimize the disease, and when used in conjunction with some easy management factors to reduce mosquitoes, West Nile Virus exposure can be reduced on your farm. You can continue practicing the crazy dance of the mosquito, but using mosquito repellant, reducing standing water on your farm, and avoiding the outdoors in the dusk and dawn, could dramatically reduce you and your horse’s exposure to mosquitoes and West Nile Virus.

Dr. Heather Hilbrands, DVM, grew up in Milbank, S.D., and received an animal sciene degree from South Dakota State University. She graduated from veterinary school at Iowa State University in 2006. She practiced large and small animal veterinary medicine in South Dakota prior to coming to North Dakota. She now practices at Casselton Veterinary Service, Inc. in Casselton, N.D.