WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — North Carolina is home to more than a quarter of a million horses. The state's horse industry is valued at more than $500 million annually.
Because of the wet weather, experts said a deadly horse disease is ravaging the state this year. Many horses are dying from a deadly mosquito-borne disease called
Eastern Equine Encephalitis
"This year is starting to get to the point where we might could term this an epidemic compared to what we have in the past," said state veterinarian Dr. David Marshall.
Marshall said a few cases of EEE are generally reported each year. This year the disease has appeared months earlier than usual and in record numbers.
"We've seen an explosive number. We're up to 29 as of today," Marshall said of the reported cases.
As early as two days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, horses can show signs of the disease. They may run a fever, wander, circle or go blind. EEE is almost alway fatal to horses.
A vaccine is available for the disease, but a lot horse owners do not get it. People who work with horses are trying to get the word out that horses need to be vaccinated.
"As a veterinarian, we're working out in the population trying to vaccinate and get horses covered so that this disease will not take the life of our very, very dear friends," said Dr. Kim Browning of Apex Animal Hospital.
The problem may be even larger. Experts said dozens of horses have died this year without being reported.
The disease generally does not infect pets, like dogs and cats.
Horses cannot pass the disease to humans, but its growing presence is a threat. From 1964 to 2001 there have been 164 confirmed cases in humans nationwide; 12 of those cases were in North Carolina.