New Jersey Agriculture officials are urging horse owners across the state to get their animals vaccinated for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a serious mosquito-borne illness that is usually fatal.

Manuel Tamassia, the director of the division of animal health in the New Jersey Agriculture Department, said EEE, also known as sleeping horse sickness, is a viral disease that affects a horse’s neurological system.

"The horses that acquire the disease can have fever, they may be off feed, they may show depression, clinical neurological diseases,” he said. “The owner of the horse will see that the horse is not acting normally. It might be wandering, it might be losing balance, circling.”

He noted some horses with EEE will fall down and not be able to get up .

“Some can survive. The fatality rate is about 90 percent in horses, so it’s very likely the horse if he acquires the disease, it’s very likely he will die," Tamassia said.

He said so far we’ve had 5 EEE cases in New Jersey, which is about normal for the year.

Last week, the Agriculture Department reported a 12-year-yold gelding in Gloucester County had contracted EEE and the horse had to be euthanized.

But vaccinations are available from veterinarians.

Eastern equine encephalitis can also be transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito — though it's rare, and according to the New Jersey Health Department there have not been any verified cases in the Garden State so far this year.

People with EEE typically have no apparent illness until the sudden onset of "headache, high fever, chills, and vomiting," according to the state Department of Health. "The illness may then progress into disorientation, seizures, or coma."

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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