Equestrians are on high alert as several cases of a mosquito-borne virus have been confirmed in horses across the region.
At least four cases of West Nile virus have been detected in the Wagga area, Riverina Equine Veterinary Services confirmed on Friday. It can initially cause horses to appear depressed or reluctant to move, and in serious cases can result in major neurological infections and death.
It has the potential to cause human infection through mosquito bites, prompting warnings from Murrumbidgee Local Health District late last month.
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Wagga horse owner Tamara Percival said the virus being detected in the region is "pretty scary".
"It is concerning to say the least and it obviously puts a lot more pressure on horse owners to be extra vigilant around mosquitoes," she said.
"Any time we're down around our horses it is stressful thinking that the next bite could be the bite that my horse gets it."
The hot and wet conditions experienced in Wagga over summer have resulted in good breeding grounds for mosquitoes and sparked a major population boom for the insect.
Miss Percival said it is crucial for horse owners to do everything they can to ensure their horse is protected from mosquito bites.
"Rugging is definitely one thing you can do to prevent it and also using insecticide or sprays when you can," she said.
"Not leaving your horses near bodies of water where mosquitoes can breed is also important."
Corrie Tapfield and her daughter Jade said the virus is a big worry for them and their six horses, especially because symptoms can initially appear as more minor illnesses.
"You don't want to see any animal suffering and the fact it comes across as a bit of a cold and other minor illnesses is a big concern because once it sets in it can really affect your horse," Mrs Tapfield said.
"We've really had to invest in some good mesh cottons to protect the horses as best we can. My daughter spends a good six hours each day with her horses and it's just another thing she has to worry about and constantly check for."
Jade said the thought of one of her beloved horses contracting the virus and having their life put at risk was very scary.
"When you own horses it's not just an investment or a sport you love and care for them like family," she said.
"So when something like this virus threatens to hurt or even kill them you're scared and you want to do all you can to protect them."
Horse owners who suspect their animal has contracted West Nile virus are urged to contact a veterinary service as soon as possible.
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