West Nile a threat to horses as well as humans

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After an Arizona woman died from the West Nile Virus, ranchers are gearing up for a potentially deadly season... for their horses.

Owning a horse can be a lot of work, and this season ranchers have another task to worry about. They have to protect their animals from West Nile.

"It can be deadly," Veterinarian Stacey Cameron has been caring for horses for more than a decade.

It's part of her job to inform owners about the signs and symptoms of the virus carried by mosquitoes.

"Mosquito bites in horses are similar to those in humans.  You'll have a  little localized swelling and they can be itchy."

Horse owners may not even see the mosquito bites. Veterinarians say one of the biggest signs of infection is the horse will appear weak.

"Clinical signs of West Nile Virus in horses include limb weakness, ataxia, muscle trembling."

Infections can be so severe, the virus might actually paralyze the animal. West Nile travels through the blood stream and once it gets to the brain, the horse will likely die.

Dr. Cameron says prevention is two-fold, "Once they've had their initial booster series it's a yearly vaccine and it's pretty important to keep up with your veterinary appointments."

The second defense is environmental, "Remove any standing water in your horse facilities. There's different fly sprays that include mosquito repellent as well."

The equestrian community is encouraged to pay careful attention to their animals as the monsoon goes full swing.

Dr. Cameron says it's hard to tell how many West Nile cases have been confirmed in horses because symptoms can be confused with other ailments and many cases go un-diagnosed.