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Equine botulism leads to two deaths in Nova Scotia

Equine botulism is the cause behind two deaths at an animal rescue in Nova Scotia, Canada this month, with a third horse having been diagnosed, reports CBC.

Like many cases of equine botulism, the horses affected most likely became ill after eating hay that had been contaminated with the toxin-producing bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria exists in the soil and in decaying animal carcasses. From there, it can sometimes become rolled up in hay bales, where it finds a favorable environment to grow. Inadequately processed haylage and silage also present a risk.

“For all those people out there who thought, like me, if you feed dry hay you’re safe — you’re not,” said the animal shelter’s owner to CBC. A video interview with the owner can be seen here.

Vaccination and prevention

The shelter’s owner also urges others to vaccinate their horses before it’s too late.

“They’re my kids, they’re my children,” she said. “This could have been so easily prevented.”

A vaccine against equine botulism, BotVax B, inoculates against the disease in three doses, each one month apart, and then once a year. It’s the only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved Clostridium botulinum type B toxoid licensed for preventing equine botulism in healthy horses. The vaccine is also more affordable than equine botulism treatment, which can cause medical bills to skyrocket.

Though early symptoms do look like colic, equine botulism is a serious and not always well-known ailment. It gradually paralyzes a horse, and early symptoms include signs of weakness, difficulty swallowing, weak eyelid and tongue tone, pupil dilation and respiratory distress. It is more than 80% fatal in untreated cases. Treatment with antitoxin reduces fatality to 50%.

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