Term of Award

Spring 2007

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Department

Department of Biology

Committee Chair

William S. Irby

Committee Member 1

Jonathan Copeland

Committee Member 2

Lance A. Durden

Committee Member 3

Bruce A. Schulte

Abstract

West Nile Virus is an important arbovirus (virus transmitted by arthropods) that has recently affected the health of both humans and animals in the United States. West Nile fever was first identified in the US in 1999. West Nile virus (WNV), vectored by mosquitoes, has had a detrimental impact on domestic horse health with over 23,000 equine cases in the United States since 1999. Previous research has focused on how this disease progresses and affects equids days to weeks post infection. The purpose of this study was to evaluate permanent equine behavioral changes. Specifically, I examined if surviving this disease caused changes in the animals defensive behaviors against biting insects, presumably because of to the neurological sequelae that can result from the infection. Results from behavioral observations and neurological reflex testing suggest that long-term survivors of WNV do not show a change in the frequency or types of behaviors used compared to uninfected horses, supporting the idea that lasting deficits from WNV infection usually resolve within a year. On the other hand, microhabitat and grouping behavior did have a significant impact on the frequency of defensive behaviors, and these may play a more pivotal role in protecting equines from biting insects and disease than previously thought.

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