A number of recent cases of Eastern Equine Encephalitis in South Carolina have been cause for alarm.

There have been a total of five confirmed equine deaths from the vector-borne disease and an additional two suspected cases, said Dr. Adam Eichelberger, Clemson University director of animal health programs, in a phone interview. However, vaccinations prove extremely effective in preventing the disease. There have been no confirmed or reported suspected cases in Aiken County.

The mortality rate of the disease is extremely high with 90 to 95 percent of the cases being fatal. There have been three confirmed fatalities in Sumter County, one in Colleton and another in Horry. The mortality rate for horses infected with West Nile Virus is 30 to 40 percent.

Horses will develop clinical signs of Eastern Equine Encephalitis two to five days after being infected. Virus symptoms include anything that may be abnormal, such as a change in the way a horse presents itself, loss of appetite, depression, lethargy, sleeping sickness, severe fever, acting out of the ordinary, inflammation of neurological systems, incoordination, inability to swallow and drooling, said Eichelberger.

The Eastern Equine Encephalitis vaccination isn't mandatory in South Carolina, but Eichelberger strongly recommends that horse owners vaccinate against rabies, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus as the vaccines are very effective.

If horses are naive, having never been vaccinated, they should have one shot, a booster four to six weeks after, and additional boosters in the spring and fall. Horse owners should consult with their local veterinarians, said Eichelberger.

There may be a more rigorous schedule of vaccinations based on the density of a mosquito population in a particular area or in a location where there is a prevalence of the disease, said Eichelberger.

There is a zoonotic risk – meaning Eastern Equine Encephalitis can be transmitted to humans – but people can do their parts to reduce their chances of being infected by using mosquito repellents, protect themselves by wearing appropriate clothing, limit their exposure during the late afternoon and early evening, and eliminate standing water, which serves as potential breeding areas for mosquitoes.

Ben Baugh has been covering the equine industry and equestrian sport for the Aiken Standard since 2004. Among the awards Baugh has won include the 2003 Raleigh Burroughs Award as the turf writer making the most impact on the Florida Thoroughbred Industry. Baugh is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, worked for North America's leading Thoroughbred breeder Adena Springs in Ocala, Fla. And interned at Thoroughbred Racing Communications in New York, N.Y.