Tennessee veterinarians urge Potomac Horse Fever vaccinations as positive cases identified


TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – A warning has been issued from agricultural leaders: a disease impacting horses is on the rise in Tennessee.

Potomac Horse Fever is caused by bacteria thought to be carried by aquatic snail larvae and insects including flies.

Local veterinarians are encouraging owners to be proactive and protect their horses from the potentially fatal disease.

“It’s not necessarily that it’s a new disease, it’s just spreading to a wider area than it used to be in,” said Paul Riedel, a veterinarian at Mountain Empire Large Animal Hospital in Johnson City.

Riedel says they have seen a rush from owners seeking the vaccine for their horses in the past few days. The hospital has seen two cases of PHF so far this year, one horse died and one is being treated now.

“Some of those symptoms we pick up on include diarrhea, being lethargic and tired, ones that develop cases of laminitis,” said Riedel.

Tennessee’s state veterinarian Dr. Samantha Beaty confirms at least four horses in Tennessee have now tested positive for the fever, locally that includes Hawkins and Sullivan Counties.

“In addition to having your horses on a routine medical schedule, make sure they have clean drinking water. One way to do this is change from natural drinking water sources to frequently-cleaned water buckets,” Beaty said in a statement.

Riedel agrees preventative action is necessary.

“Covering the feed, changing their water, those are two things you can do to environmentally control. On top of that the vaccine will help prevent the disease to some extent but also just prevent severe disease,” said Riedel.

He added the vaccine for horses is the single best way to prevent severe illness and possible death, also noticing warning signs early.

Beaty’s office says horse owners should watch for signs that can include anorexia, diarrhea, colic, fever, and laminitis. Signs of the disease can appear within two and eighteen days after ingestion. PHF can be fatal if left untreated.

“Trying to catch that before it gets to the point that they are really really sick is important,” said Riedel.

Horse owners can also reduce risk of exposure by turning off insect-attracting stable lights at night.

PHF is not contagious to humans and cannot be passed from horse to horse.

Mid-to-late summer is when the risk of illness is increased. Contact your local large animal vet for information about vaccination.

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