Emu Farmers Reminded to Vaccinate for EEE

(September 2011) With all of the hurricanes, storms and heavy rains throughout the country, mosquito season is in full swing, bringing with it the threat of mosquito-borne disease. Several outbreaks of EEE in emus have been reported in the Upper Midwest and New England. For the emu farmer, there is the danger of their flock picking up Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). EEE is known to occur in many species of birds, horses and even man. Signs of EEE in emu include sudden onset of weakness, staggering, bloody diarrhea and rapid death, usually within 24 hours of first onset of symptoms. The virus can be “shed” in feces, blood or vomit. Humans can pick up this disease through contact with the virus through mucous membranes and/or open wounds so caution should be used when handling the carcasses. Contact with bloody feces, blood, or performing a necropsy procedure after the bird has died is highly discouraged unless the bird is examined by a well protected, knowledgeable, trained veterinarian.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine available to prevent EEE in emu, the same one used for horses. The farmer should know that giving an equine product is off label and there is always a possibility of a vaccine reaction, says Thomas N. Tully, Jr., DVM, MS. Tully reports that such reactions are rare, but that the farmer should be aware that it could happen. A complete equine dose should be injected in the leg muscle using appropriate restraint and aseptic technique, said Dr. Tully. According to Dr. Tully, the equine vaccine may safely contain equine tetanus, but should NOT be manufactured from an avian cell culture or one that contains equine influenza vaccine. The vaccine can be multivalent EEE, WEE, and VEE.

According to the American Emu Association Agriculture Committee Chair, Joylene Reavis, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks when considering the possibility of an EEE outbreak. In addition to the possible danger to you and your family, you can lose an entire emu population on one farm within days, states Reavis. Your local vet clinic will know if EEE is a local concern and if there is an EEE outbreak in your area since this is important information for horse owners.

Dr. Tully recommends vaccinating emu chicks starting at 6-8 weeks then again at 10-12 weeks, with a final injection at 16-18 weeks, then every 6 months thereafter. In the face of an outbreak the farmers can booster their birds at that time, says Dr. Tully. For adults that have not been vaccinated they should be vaccinated once, with a booster 3 weeks later, then every 6 months thereafter. Additional information is available in the book Ratite Management, Medicine and Surgery edited by Thomas N. Tully, Jr. and Simon M. Shane. The book is a guide to the diagnosis and prevention of infectious diseases and metabolic conditions in commercial ratites. There are contributions by more than 15 experts in specific fields.

Thomas N. Tully, Jr., DVM, MS is a Diplomate ABVP (Avian), ECAMS and Professor of Zoological Medicine at the Louisiana State University – School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. “Veterinarians ONLY” with emu/EEE related questions may reach him at 225-578-9557.

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Founded in 1989, The American Emu Association is a non-profit trade association representing breeders, producers and marketers of emu meat, oil and other emu co-products. The emu industry is an alternative agricultural industry, dominated by the small farmer, who is devoted to humane and environmentally positive practices that will produce beneficial products for society. For more information about the American Emu Association (AEA) or the emu industry visit https://aea-emu.org