Friday, August 09, 2002

Third horse dies in Kentucky from West Nile

AP Sports Writer

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A 5-year-old gelding died in Greenup County after contracting the West Nile virus, the third equine death linked to the disease in Kentucky this year.

        The draft horse started showing symptoms of the mosquito-borne virus on July 26 and was euthanized on July 29, said Rusty Ford, equine programs director in the state veterinarian's office in Frankfort.

        A yearling thoroughbred colt died in Fayette County on June 27, and a 5-year-old gelded Tennessee Walking Horse died in Nelson County on July 10. A 13-year-old gelding in Whitley County, also a Tennessee Walking Horse, was diagnosed with the disease on July 18, but recovered.

        Ford said state agriculture officials toured farms and racetracks this summer, warning of the risks and advising maintenance crews on measures they could take to prevent the disease.

        “Tracks have always been aggressive when it comes to mosquito control,” Ford said. “We're continuing to do what we've been doing, but we're more conscious of the need.

        “We are reaffirming that they need to be very aware of the threat of this virus.”

        Last fall, a 2-year-old colt was diagnosed with West Nile at Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby. The colt was euthanized in Lexington. In all, six horses died from the disease in Kentucky last year.

        Jefferson County Health Department officials visited Churchill Downs shortly after the death to survey the track's potential as a breeding ground for mosquitos.

        They identified more than 140 likely breeding sites among the track's 47 barns — from stormwater drains to bends in rooftops where water can gather. They told maintenance workers the most effective way to prevent West Nile was simply to keep those areas dry.

        Health officials also set mosquito traps at the track, then sent the captured insects to a lab in Frankfort to be tested. No mosquitos caught in traps at Churchill Downs this year have turned up positive for the virus, said Richard Wellinghurst, Jefferson County's coordinator of mosquito control.

        Jefferson County health officials have worked with the track before to limit mosquitos, but never to this extent, Wellinghurst said.

        “Once you know the virus is moving through the state, you know there is some potential that it could be transmitted to a horse,” he said. “This was just one of those things, and it forced us to take a good look at what we were doing to make sure we were doing everything we could to prevent this from happening.”

        The track sits in a residential area south of Louisville, and Wellinghurst said the measures were taken to protect humans, too.

        “We've got both a public health interest and a horse industry interest there,” Wellinghurst said.

        Ford said the disease is far from reaching outbreak proportions among horses in Kentucky.

        “I would not say I'm alarmed,” he said. “I can't speculate on what the future holds. But there are things we know we can do to minimize the risk, and we're doing them.”



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