Equine West Nile virus (WNV) encephalomyelitis cases - based on clinical signs and ELISA serology test results - reported to Texas disease control authorities during 2002 were analyzed to provide insights into the epidemiology of the disease within a previously disease-free population. The epidemic occurred between June 27 and December 17 (peaking in early October) and 1,698 cases were reported. Three distinct epidemic phases were identified, occurring mostly in southeast, northwest and then central Texas. Significant (P<0.05) disease clusters were identified in northwest and northern Texas. Most (91.1%) cases had no recent travel history, and most (68.9%) cases had not been vaccinated within the previous 12 months. One-third of cases did not survive, 71.2% of which were euthanatized. The most commonly reported presenting signs included ataxia (69%), abnormal gait (52%), muscle fasciculations (49%), depression (32%) and recumbency (28%). Vaccination status, ataxia, falling down, recumbency and lip droop best explained the risk of not surviving WNV disease. Results suggest that the peak risk period for encephalomyelitis caused by WNV may vary substantially among regions within Texas. Recumbent horses have a poor prognosis for survival. Vaccines, even if not administered sufficiently in advance of WNV infection within a district, may reduce the risk of death by at least 44%.