According to several Georgia newspapers, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) has struck nine horses in the southern part of the state. Only three cases were documented in Georgia in 2002.
EEE is caused by a virus found in wild birds, and it is transmitted to horses and humans via the bite of an infected mosquito. Horses do not develop high enough levels of the EEE virus in their blood to be contagious to other animals or humans.
"The mosquitoes that are primarily responsible for spreading eastern equine (encephalitis) are mosquitoes that breed in marshy or swampy areas. Hence, it's more commonly found in south Georgia," said an Associated Press (AP) article on AccessNorthGeorgia.com
Cases were found in Tift and Mitchell counties in January, and in Clinch, Effingham, Atkinson, and Jeff Davis counties in April. There have been two April cases and one May case in Berrien country, according to epidemiologist Laurel Garrison in the article.
In an AP article on 11alive.com (WXIA-TV Atlanta's web site), Rosemarie Kelly, medical epidemiologist for the Georgia Division of Public Health said, "We actually do have some concern because it's somewhat early (in the year) and it's a relatively large number of horse positive cases," Kelly said. "It's much worse to deal with than West Nile virus."
Officials attribute the rise in cases to the recent rainfall that has ended drought conditions in the state, and thus, the increase in areas of standing water where mosquitoes breed and thrive.
State officials have urged horse owners to vaccinate their horses against the disease and against West Nile virus.