On September 12, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) was notified of a positive test result for West Nile Virus (WNV) in a horse from the Toronto area. The horse displayed signs of fever, muscle tremors, gait abnormalities (ataxia) and weakness. The horse is recovering under veterinary medical supervision.

Veterinarians in Ontario should consider WNV as a differential diagnosis in horses with neurological signs, and can identify positive cases through appropriate testing. WNV is an immediately notifiable disease under both the federal Health of Animals Act and the provincial Animal Health Act. Signs of WNV (such as lethargy, ataxia, facial tremors, muscle fasciculation and limb paralysis) can mimic a variety of encephalitides including rabies, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), hepatic encephalopathy, equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), and equine herpes virus 1 (EHV-1). Please visit CFIA’s webpage for more information on testing.

Effective equine vaccines for WNV are available and veterinarians should ensure that vaccinations are up-to-date in their clients’ animals. There is no vaccine for humans and no treatment, other than supportive, once a person is infected.

West Nile Virus (WNV) is endemic in Ontario and cases occur in the horse population at varying levels each year. Most equine cases of WNV occur between August and September, although cases can occur into October if environmental conditions permit the survival of the mosquito vector species. Ontario’s local public health units are currently conducting mosquito surveillance. Birds are the natural host for the virus, which is transmitted to horses and humans by mosquitoes which have bitten an infected bird. As of September 3, 2016, there have been 7 human cases of West Nile virus infection with 4 cases occurring in Toronto. As well there have been 165 positive mosquito pools identified across the province.

WNV infections have been reported in a wide range of animal and bird species, including horses, dogs, cats, deer, crows, chickens, geese, jays, raptors and owls. Horses and birds of the corvid family, including ravens, magpies, jays and crows, are particularly susceptible to WNV.

Positive equine cases of WNV in Ontario, when identified, may be followed up by the local public health unit to determine the vaccination status of the horse and whether the exposure of the horse was local or travel-related. The public health unit will also ensure that human exposure to mosquitoes in the area which may potentially be carrying WNV is minimized. Depending on the time of year, the owners of properties on which a positive equine WNV case is diagnosed may be asked to allow public health mosquito traps to be placed around their property for surveillance purposes – there is no cost to the property owner for this. Equine neurological cases are posted on the OMAFRA website here.

Questions with respect to veterinary public health issues or responses in Ontario should be directed to:

Dr. Catherine Filejski,
Public Health Veterinarian
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Tel. (416) 212-0424
e-mail: catherine.filejski@ontario.ca

Questions with respect to animal health issues or responses in Ontario should be directed to:

Dr. Janet Alsop
Lead Veterinarian – Regulatory Response
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Tel. (519) 826-4323
e-mail: janet.alsop@ontario.ca

Or for Equine Health to:

Dr. Alison Moore
Lead Veterinarian – Animal Health and Welfare
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Tel: (519) 826-4514
e-mail: alison.moore@ontario.ca

Agricultural Information Contact Centre:
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca