West Nile threat approaches Fraser Valley


The West Nile virus has hit British Columbia, and a Langley veterinarian is warning horse owners to get their animals vaccinated.

The disease has hit two horses in Cache Creek and Ashcroft in the past two weeks, said Dr. John Twidale, chair of the equine committee for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s B.C. chapter.

“We’ve been lucky for the past five years,” said Twidale. Until now, it was known that West Nile, which is spread by mosquitoes and usually infects birds such as crows, was in Washington State and Alberta.

But it hadn’t turned up in this province until now.

West Nile can infect both horses and humans. 

The disease can’t spread horse-to-human, Twidale said, but only via mosquitoes from birds.

Symptoms in horses include muscle tremors in the face, chest, and body, weakness in the hind legs, fever, depression, and in some severe cases, the inability to stand.

In severe cases it can kill horses.

“We haven’t had cases in the Fraser Valley yet,” said Twidale.

He said this is a warning for local horse owners to vaccinate or get booster shots for their animals. With about 10,000 horses in Langley, this is one of the areas with the most need.

September and October seem to be the highest months for infection with West Nile in other parts of Canada, Twidale said.

The disease only seriously affects a small percentage of those infected.

“Although most people who get infected will not feel any symptoms, the disease can be serious for one person out of about every 150 who are infected,” according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle weakness and joint aches, malaise, rashes, and sensitivity to light.

West Nile neurological syndrome, the most serious form of infection, can include paralysis, encephalitis, and meningitis.

There is no human vaccine, and the best way to protect yourself is to avoid mosquito bites. Removing nearby sources of standing water, where mosquitoes breed, such as disused bird feeders and old tires, can help reduce local mosquito populations. 

Wearing protective clothing when outdoors, along with a light coating of a DEET-based repellant, is also recommended by the BCCDC.

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