Friday, May 20, 2011

Horses quarantined after Utah event

Equine herpes virus has killed 9 horses in Western states

Express Staff Writer

A trio of horses graze in a corral south of Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

A deadly equine virus has spread to Idaho from a recent cutting horse competition in Ogden, Utah, leading to the deaths of at least two horses in the Boise area. Wood River Valley horse owners have been put on alert and advised to quarantine horses that may have been infected to keep the virus from spreading.

State Veterinarian Bill Barton said Wednesday that two horses in the Wood River Valley that attended the event in Utah have been treated for symptoms that may be related to the virus, but that the virus has not yet been confirmed in the local horse population.

Barton said nine horses in several Western states, including Idaho, have died from the equine herpes virus (EHV-1). He said symptoms to look out for are severe neurological disorders, including poor coordination and lethargy.

Lorraine Wilcox of the Lucky 13 horse facility on Buttercup Road north of Hailey said that "rumors are flying that there is a diseased horse in the valley, but everyone is being really hush, hush."

Wilcox said people who casually drop by horse facilities like the Lucky 13 to pet horses should stay away until after June 1 to help contain the virus, if it has in fact come to the valley.

About 400 horses from Western states competed at the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships from April 30 to May 8, in Ogden. Many more horses were on the grounds during the event and could also have become infected, Barton said.

A news release issued on May 16 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture states: "The Equine Herpes Virus is highly contagious among horses. Llamas and alpacas can also be affected but the virus poses no health threat to humans. Symptoms may include a fever, nasal discharge, incoordination, hind-end weakness, lethargy, urine dribbling and diminished tail tone. The virus is easily spread by airborne transmission, horse-to-horse contact and by contact with nasal secretions on equipment, tack, feed and other surfaces. People can spread the virus to horses by means of contaminated hands, clothing, shoes and vehicles. Currently there is no equine vaccine for protection against the neurological strain of the virus."

Barton said any horses that attended the event in Ogden or were exposed to horses that attended the event should be taken to a veterinarian to have them checked out. He recommended that horse owners incorporate strict movement controls or containment methods to prevent the spread of the disease.

"If you participated in this event, or have contact with horses that traveled to this event, you should notify your veterinarian and isolate and monitor these horses for a minimum of 21 days for clinical signs of the disease," he said.

"The virus can manifest itself in respiratory symptoms, or cause pregnant horses to abort, but we are looking now for a fever and neurological symptoms, including uncoordination and lethargy. If they are infected they can go off feed, become uncoordinated, lean against walls and fences and eventually go down."

Barton said an epidemiological investigation is under way to find the source of the outbreak and the extent of its spread.

Anyone suspecting or confirming a case of EHV-1 should call (208) 332-8540 or (208) 332-8570 to report cases.

Tony Evans:

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