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Burro Population Threatened as Deaths Expected to Rise Due to Equine Influenza Outbreak

An equine influenza outbreak is impacting the local burro populations in Redlands as dozens of burros have died from the virus since mid-October and the death count is expected to rise according to the Riverside County Animal Services. 

Most of the deaths are occurring in the Reche Canyon area, but about six have occurred in Moreno Valley Animal Services’ coverage area in the interface of the foothills along Pigeon Pass Road, Heacock Street and Redlands Boulevard. 

San Bernardino County, Riverside County and state officials are monitoring the outbreak and urging horse owners to consult their veterinarians and get booster vaccines for previously vaccinated animals. 

Horse owners are suggested to move their animals away from fence lines where the burros frequent so that their animals are not exposed to the virus.  

This virus is specific to equids such as horses, mules and donkeys and does not affect any other species of animals. Equine influenza is a highly contagious virus that spreads rapidly through groups of horses in aerosolized droplets dispersed by coughing or through fomite transmission. The majority of the clinical signs are respiratory and may also include fever, edema and enlarged lymph nodes.  

State veterinarian in the CDFA’s Ontario office, Dr. Alisha Olmstead, says equine influenza is one of the most common infectious diseases of the respiratory tract of horses, which is why there are several vaccines currently marketed.

Although officials recognize that some people unlawfully feed the burros, all agencies are urging the public to avoid contact with the burros, especially anyone that owns horses.

“Humans are not able to contract the disease, but people can act as fomites and transmit the virus between horses,” said Emily Nietrzeba, a Sacramento-based equine specialist veterinarian with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

“It’s important we emphasize to the public regarding the importance of preventing contact between sick burros and healthy horses and donkeys, and avoiding all shared waterers, feeders, and equipment,” Dr. Nietrzeba said. 

Riverside County, Moreno Valley and San Bernardino County officers will assist with transporting sick burros, when possible, to the nonprofit organization DonkeyLand for isolation and care. DonkeyLand’s staffers and its veterinarian, Dr. Paul Wan, will then vaccinate and monitor the burros before releasing them back to the wild. 

It is uncertain how many burros are in the hills between Riverside and San Bernardino counties, but some estimates put the number at approximately 500 burros.

To report any sick animals in the city of Redlands please contact the Redlands Animal Control at 909-798-7644.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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