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HORSE'S DEATH ATTRIBUTED TO VIRUS PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN IN CALIFORNIA.

Byline: Cecilia Chan Staff Writer

MOORPARK - A 16-month-old show horse at a Moorpark stable died in what may be the first case of eastern equine encephalitis virus ever reported west of the Mississippi River and Texas, public health officials reported Friday.

The rare virus, transmitted by mosquito bites, can cause death in humans; however, officials said local conditions make it unlikely that the virus would spread to animals or people in Ventura County.

``I'm pretty darn confident there's not going to be any transmission to humans or any other horses,'' said Robert M. Levin, Ventura County public health officer. ``The reason why are the conditions are just not there for it.

``We have two wonderful things on our side: evidence our birds have no evidence of infection in them, and we got this very fortuitous absence of mosquitoes around the area where this occurred.''

The horse died of encephalitis on April 21, weeks after it had appeared at shows in Utah and two other sites in California.

Further lab results, namely a DNA analysis to confirm whether the virus was eastern equine encephalitis or a similar virus, are expected Monday, Levin said.

The virus, first isolated in this country in 1933, can be fatal for humans and cause permanent brain damage in those who survive. Symptoms include headache, high fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, and may progress to coma and seizures.

The virus is found in North, Central and South America and in the Caribbean. In the United States, cases have been reported in the Eastern seaboard states, the Gulf Coast and inland Midwestern areas.

Levin said in this country, the virus rarely hits, with fewer than 15 cases of animals and people a year. He did not know how many fatalities had been reported from the virus.

``The presence of eastern equine encephalitis in an animal here in California for the first time ever west of the Mississippi and Texas is an emerging infectious disease,'' he said.

A vaccine is available for horses but not humans. However, public health officials said there is no cause for alarm.

Levin said the virus can spread through mosquitoes, which need a host - usually it's chickens.

The county tested a chicken flock at a monitoring station across the street from the Moorpark stable and the blood tests came back negative for the virus, he said.

Other mosquitoes collected in the area also tested negative for the virus, he said.

Levin said it would have been difficult for the mosquitoes to pick up the virus from the horse because the animal showed only a slight trace of the virus in its bloodstream.

Levin said the county is continuing its mosquito abatement in areas such as flood control channels and creeks.

The county advised residents to do their part in preventing an increase of the insects by removing standing pools of water and other measures.

HOW TO BEAT THE BUGS

--Drain all standing water. Permanent ponds should be stocked with fish that eat mosquito larvae. For fish, call (805) 654-2816.

--Avoid outside activity when mosquitoes are most active - especially at dawn and dusk.

--Wear protective clothing and apply insect repellent outdoors.

--Keep infants indoors during peak mosquito hours. If outside, cover cribs, bassinets or playpens with suspended mosquito netting.

--Vaccinate horses following veterinarian's suggested schedule.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 20, 2000
Words:561
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