Horse with EEE euthanized in Highgate - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Horse with EEE euthanized in Highgate

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"It's surprising and our kids love being outside," Teri Sibenaller said.

Sibenaller worries that Eastern equine encephalitis has now been found in her backyard. For the first time this year, EEE has been detected in a horse in Franklin County. Now, Highgate Elementary School is taking extra precautions and informing parents of the possible dangers.

"So, we gotta make sure we take care and they don't get sick," Sibenaller said.

EEE is spread by infected mosquitoes. The virus causes high fever, chills and vomiting. More serious cases may lead to seizures, coma or even death. Two Vermonters died from it last year.

The infected horse in Highgate was euthanized.

"We're doing a confirmatory test, but given the symptoms and the preliminary test, we're pretty sure this horse is going to be confirmed as a Triple-E case," said Erica Berl, an infectious disease epidemiologist.

Letters went home with students at Highgate Elementary alerting families after-school activities will be cut short and kids will be watched closely during recess.

"We just want to do a good job at getting that information out there about the possibilities, as well as how we're trying to respond to it as a school," said Marcal Choquette, the principal at Highgate Elementary.

"It's definitely a big fear in terms of just knowing that potential bug bites can have some really serious effects and possibly death," said Kerri St. Lawrence, a parent.

On average, there are about six cases of EEE reported in humans nationwide each year. No human cases have been reported in Vermont this year. Prior to the Highgate case, mosquito pools in Addison and Rutland counties tested positive for EEE. Tests are not done everywhere. And this new case suggests it could be anywhere.

"About a third of the people who get infected will end up dying from it, a third will recover but have serious neurological effects afterward and a third recover and go on and live normal lives," Berl said.

And while there is no vaccine for people, farmers can help prevent the disease from spreading.

"You can use the horse vaccine in alpacas and llamas, who are also susceptible. Cattle do not seem to be susceptible to this virus; we don't need to worry about our dairy herds," Berl said.

Highgate is now considered a high-risk area. Officials are asking residents to stay indoors from dawn until dusk and take extra precautions when outdoors.

"We do recommend that people curtail their evening activities," Berl said. "Don't be out when the mosquitoes are biting from dusk to dawn, essentially. And if you do need to be out, you want to go out, cover up and use insect repellent to prevent bites."

The Health Department also suggests residents make sure doors and windows are in good shape to keep mosquitoes out of their homes at night.

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