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Fighting West Nile virus

They'll give ita shot

EAGLE POINT ' A little jab where the sun rarely shines is giving Anchor a leg up on a viral battle that has yet to be fought in Oregon, but is likely to be waged here this year.

Anchor received a vaccination shot in the rear Friday in the first of a series the male miniature horse will get to ward off the dreaded West Nile virus, a mosquito-carried disease expected to reach Oregon sometime in 2003.

The disease can be deadly to humans and horses, and Anchor's owner, Kim Sugden, won't risk her prize show horse even though the odds of his contracting the disease this year are very slim.

I'm a little worried, said the 20-year-old Sugden, who shows Anchor and her other miniature, Tory, on the breed's Western show circuit. I lost a Shetland pony to pneumonia. I've been through all that already, and I don't want to do it again.

Sugden isn't alone.

Rogue Valley horse-lovers are flocking to their local veterinarians this winter for a relatively new vaccination against West Nile, which is present in 43 of the contiguous 48 states and is expected to hit Oregon as early as this spring.

The word's definitely out and we've had quite a run on it, says Dr. Bill Ferguson of the Rogue Valley Equine Hospital, which vaccinated 155 horses in January.

There will be cases in Oregon this year, but whether it's one or two or 20 is anybody's guess, Ferguson says.

The virus was first found in the United States in 1999, when a few East Coast residents were infected, and has since spread throughout the continent. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had logged 3,399 cases of West Nile infection in humans in 2002, 193 of them fatal.

The virus also had been identified in about 6,400 horses, as well as thousands of birds (mostly crows, jays and ravens), dogs and a few small mammals.

The virus strikes horses harder than humans. It's fatal in 30 to 40 percent of equine cases, but only about 5 percent of human cases are serious enough to be reported.

There is no human vaccine or drug that targets West Nile, and care is limited to treating symptoms.

But a vaccination exists for horses, and owners are galloping in for the shot.

Horses are an investment, says Tom Sugden, Kim's father. And you have to protect your investment.

The vaccinations cost about &

36;20 to &

36;30 per dose, with most horses requiring two or three doses. The first dose is administered by a veterinarian, then the booster is given three to six weeks later by a vet or the horse owner, Ferguson says.

Two to three weeks after the booster, 70 percent of the horses have protection against the virus, Ferguson says. A third dose jumps the success rate to 90 percent, so most owners are opting for the third shot, he says.

Annual boosters are also recommended, he says.

Many horse owners opted against the vaccinations a year ago but are coming in now to ensure that the three-shot series is done in time for the first mosquito infestations in spring.

Kim Sugden says she considered the vaccinations for Anchor and Tory last year as well. But the infection of a horse last fall in Washington cinched her decision for 2003.

That was a little close to home, so I thought I better get it done, she says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

Dr. Cary Hills gives a West Nile vaccination shot to Anchor, a miniature horse owned by Kim Sugden, right, at Rogue Valley Equine Hospital in Eagle Point. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven