MOULTRIE -- A Colquitt County woman reported Saturday that a sheep she owned has died of eastern equine encephalitis.

Joyce Burns, who resides on Brandy Drive with her husband Ed, said her Barbados blackbellied sheep died on May 10 but she only received word a couple of days ago that it was encephalitis that killed it.

She said she took the three-month-old male sheep to her local veterinarian after it appeared to have been having seizures. Its condition worsened quickly and it was in great pain with apparent brain damage so she decided to euthanize it.

She said the body was sent to state facilities in Tifton for an autopsy and the report had just come back.

"The autopsy said that it was eastern equine encephalitis and that otherwise the sheep had been in very good health," Mrs. Burns said.

She said it was scary how fast it all happened. She said she and her husband had gone out of town on a Friday night and returned late the next afternoon. She said the sheep, which was a pet and followed her around the yard like a puppy, was playful when they arrived.

She said, however, a short time afterward it began to have what appeared to be seizures.

"After reading about that little girl in Valdosta getting encephalitis from a mosquito bite, this really scares me," she said. "We've gotten rid of everything around here that holds water."

Mrs. Burns said she purchased the sheep from someone who raises horses and sheep. She said those owners had vaccinated their horses for encephalitis but not the sheep. She said now they are vaccinating the sheep.

"People need to be aware of this with all the mosquitoes that we have around here," she said. "I see people sitting out on their porches, and I wonder how many of them are unaware of these dangers."

The Burns live just outside the city limits. She said she's noticed a couple of dead birds in her yard recently and in hindsight, she said she probably should have reported them.

"Where we live, people are always dropping off unwanted pets. A couple of cats had taken up here and they would go up and smell these dead birds, but wouldn't touch them," she said.

Saturday, it was reported that Jennifer Tucker, a 10-year-old from Valdosta, was in a coma at an Augusta hospital after catching eastern equine encephalitis from a mosquito bite.

The youngster is the state's second case of the virus, which has a higher death rate than West Nile virus. Eastern equine encephalitis kills nearly 50 percent of those who contract it compare to 15 percent for West Nile virus.

Local health officials could not be reached over the weekend for comment.

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