The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry is strongly advising horse owners to vaccinate their animals for Eastern Equine Encephalitis and the West Nile Virus, according to a news release.

Recent rainfall from Hurricane Isaac could be problematic in the coming weeks.

“We were concerned about the increased number of cases even prior to Hurricane Isaac. Louisiana was not experiencing the drought other areas of the country were dealing with and now with Isaac inundating parts of the state with water, those areas will be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Remember, horses are infected the same way humans are infected – by being bitten by infected mosquitoes - so everyone needs to take extra precautionary measures at this time,” Commissioner Mike Strain said in the release.

If a mosquito bites an infected bird, the viruses can be spread to horses, dogs, cats and humans. The mosquito-transmitted diseases can cause inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

So far this year, the LDAF Division of Veterinary Health is reporting 33 encephalitis cases and 28 West Nile cases in horses. In 2011, there were three cases of encephalitis and no cases of West Nile reported in horses. Infected horses may show lethargy, weakness, paralysis or may even die. So far this year, nine humans have died from the West Nile virus.

Prevention includes avoiding mosquitoes, using mosquito repellants that are safe for horses and humans, and vaccination for horses. So far, there is no vaccination approved for people. Horse owners should contact their local veterinarian regarding proper vaccination protocols during this time of increased risk.