Calling all horse owners.
After seven horses that tested positive for EEE were euthanized in Massachusetts this month, the MSPCA has launched an emergency clinic in the Merrimack Valley for horses whose owners cannot afford the vaccination.
The mosquito-borne Eastern equine encephalitis virus hits horses even harder than humans. However, unlike humans, horses can be vaccinated against the virus. None of the Massachusetts horses infected this year were vaccinated, officials said.
The seven horses that died were in Brookfield, Granby, Holliston, Medfield, Mendon, Methuen, and Uxbridge. Five of those horses died in the past 10 days, officials said.
The MSPCA said it will send a crew out in the valley to vaccinate horses that have either not been vaccinated or were vaccinated more than six months ago. To qualify, owners are asked to complete an online survey. A member of the MSPCA’s Equine Assistance Program will then schedule the vaccinations, which are expected to begin Tuesday.
A horse can still contract EEE if it is vaccinated, although the disease is usually less severe, according to authorities. The vaccine protects against West Nile as well as EEE and Western equine encephalitis, and is considered both safe and effective, the MSPCA said.
The state is now starting a new, intense cycle of EEE activity that will probably persist for two to three years, state officials told the Globe earlier this week. As of Friday, 376 mosquito samples have tested positive for the virus. Four human cases of EEE were confirmed in the state this year, including one that led to a Fairhaven woman’s death.
As of Thursday, 191 Massachusetts communities had been determined to be at least at moderate risk of the rare but deadly disease. Of that number, 28 communities are at critical risk, the highest alert.
The “critical risk” distinction prompts the state to advise those communities to consider canceling or rescheduling outdoor gatherings, including organized sporting events, to avoid peak mosquito hours.
For now, the horse vaccination program is limited to the Merrimack Valley.
Hanna Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.