08/31/2001 12:00AM

First case seen of West Nile virus in Kentucky


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Department of Agriculture reported Friday that Kentucky has confirmed its first equine case of West Nile virus, a reminder that the threat is spreading.

The good news is that there is now an equine vaccine for West Nile, a virus that can cause potentially fatal encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. Unfortunately, the vaccine is not available in every state. The vaccine's producer, Fort Dodge Animal Health, rushed early doses to states with the highest incidence of the disease. Fort Dodge customer service representatives advise that the vaccine should be available in most areas around Sept. 18 from a shipment that also is expected to cover any remaining back orders.

Kentucky's first equine case occurred in Bourbon County, according to state veterinarian Dr. Don Notter. A Kentucky Department of Agriculture release said the case is not fatal, the unidentified horse is recovering, and federal representatives from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are examining other horses at the site.

The West Nile virus threat has expanded geographically since the disease made its first appearance in the Western Hemisphere in 1999. From January 1 through August 22, 2001, the United States Department of Agriculture has reported six confirmed cases of the virus in humans, including a fatality in Georgia, and 35 cases of infected horses.

In 1999, all of the human and equine cases were confined to Northeastern states, with the only human fatalities occurring in New York. But in 2001, horses in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have come down with clinical symptoms of the disease; 12 of the infected horses had been euthanized as of August 22.

Florida, with its warm climate and large number of lakes and swamps, leads the nation with 33 recorded equine infections. But the geographic scope of the mosquito-borne virus is best illustrated by the locations of mosquito populations and birds - the carriers that mosquitoes feed on before biting and infecting mammals - that have tested positive for it. Those tests show that the virus is now present in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Veterinarians throughout the country are urging horse owners to stay alert to even subtle signs of West Nile symptoms. Those include fever, depression or listlessness, hind-end weakness, lack of coordination, convulsions, inability to swallow, and head-tilting or pressing of the head against walls.

o Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith will address management of angular limb deformities in horses at the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club in Lexington on Sept. 4. McIlwraith, an orthopedic surgeon and researcher of joint disease at Colorado State University, will discuss recent studies of angular limb deviations in young horses. For reservations, call 859-296-4279.

o The American Association of Equine Practitioners has named Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital as its 2002 vice-president. The AAEP also has appointed Dr. Elizabeth M. Santschi, a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin's School of Veterinary Medicine, to its board as a director at large. Her three-year term will begin at the AAEP's 47th Annual Convention in San Diego, Calif., November 24 - 28.

o The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation is one of three horse-related charities that will benefit from Bessemer Trust Company's sponsorship of the World Thoroughbred Championships. Bessemer received national television advertising time as part of its sponsorship and will donate approximately 30 of those spots to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. The spots will air on CBS, ESPN, and ESPN2 through October 2001.