SACRAMENTO - The return of West Nile virus to California this year is renewing calls for horse owners to make sure their animals are vaccinated. Last year, 540 horses in the state were known to have contracted the disease, with 229 deaths. Of the known cases, 356 of the horses were not vaccinated and 145 more were vaccinated incompletely.

"Outbreaks of West Nile virus this year may be even worse than last year," said California State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Breitmeyer. "Horse owners should contact their veterinarians as soon as possible to ensure vaccination status is current. If people get the necessary shots for their horses now, horses will have the protection they need against the deadly disease."

Signs of West Nile virus include stumbling, staggering, wobbling, weakness, muscle twitching and inability to stand. Horses contract the disease from carrier mosquitoes and are not contagious to other horses or people. Not every horse exposed to the virus will die.

CDFA is collaborating with state, federal and local agencies to detect and respond to the disease in California. CDFA is distributing a video public service announcement about West Nile virus and has taken a public education program directly to the equine community over the last several years, including tips on mosquito control.

For more information, click on www.cdfa.ca.gov or call the Equine West Nile Virus Information Line at 1-800-268-7378. Questions may be e-mailed to CDFA at WNVirus@cdfa.ca.gov.