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Protect pets against pests

Jackson County officials are urging residents to protect their animals from mosquitoes and ticks that can carry West Nile virus, heartworm and Lyme disease.

“With the onset of spring and warmer temperatures, we encourage people to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their animals from vectors and the diseases they carry,” said Jim Lunders, manager and biologist of the Jackson County Vector Control District, which fights disease-carrying pests like mosquitoes, ticks, flies and rats.

West Nile virus, heartworm and Lyme disease are all present in the county, he said.

Lunders said dogs, cats and horses generally spend more time outside than people, so they are more at risk.

Horses are susceptible to West Nile virus. While some show no symptoms, others can suffer inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, paralysis, coma and death, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Many horses are outside day and night, leaving them vulnerable to mosquito bites that transmit the virus, Lunders said.

Horses should be vaccinated in the spring before West Nile disease is detected for the year, he said.

Unvaccinated horses need two doses of vaccine three to six weeks apart, and it takes another four to six weeks after the second dose before the animal is fully protected, according to the vector control district.

Those horses should receive their first dose of vaccine no later than May 1 in order to be on track for protection against West Nile virus and Western equine encephalitis virus, which is also spread by mosquitoes, the vector district advised.

Horses that have been vaccinated in previous years need an annual booster to maintain protection.

A vaccine against West Nile virus is not yet available for people, according to the World Health Organization.

Humans can have mild flu-like symptoms from the virus, with fewer than 1% developing severe neurological disease, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mosquitoes are also carriers of young heartworms that circulate in the bloodstream of infected animals.

If the heartworms are transmitted to dogs and cats, they can grow into foot-long parasites that cause severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs, according to the American Heartworm Society.

Dog and cat owners should use heartworm control products year-round, Lunders said.

The Western tree hole mosquito, a primary transmitter of heartworm, is prevalent in the oak and madrone forests of Southern Oregon, he said.

Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, providing ideal habitat as the pests transition from eggs to swimming larvae to flying, biting insects in just seven days, according to the vector control district.

Lunders recommends eliminating all sources of standing water, including flooded fields, birdbaths, unused wading and swimming pools, clogged gutters and old tires.

Stock mosquito fish, which eat larvae, in water troughs and ornamental ponds that can’t be drained. Fish are available for free at the vector control district office at 555 Mosquito Lane, Central Point.

Humans should wear repellent, pants and long-sleeved shirts while outside when mosquitoes are active.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect sprays can help protect horses, the vector control district advises.

Check that screen doors and windows are in good repair and fit tightly to keep insects out of the house.

Like mosquitoes, fleas and ticks can also transmit disease.

“With your dogs and cats, it’s very important to use flea and tick control year-round,” Lunders said. “The different species of ticks we have here in the Rogue Valley are active pretty much year-round.”

The Western black-legged tick carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which can affect the joints, nervous system and organs of humans, according to the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Ticks also carry ehrlichiosis bacteria. Infection causes flu-like symptoms and can lead to brain and nervous system damage, respiratory failure, uncontrolled bleeding, organ failure and death in people if not treated early with antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Animals owners should talk with their veterinarian before starting any new parasite control or vaccine program, Lunders advised.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune{ } { }River, a golden retriever, has his heartworm medication hidden in tuna and bread on Tuesday.