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There is widespread alarm resulting from two cases of the Equine Herpes Virus in Colorado that resulted in the death of one horse after it showed signs of the neurological strain referred to as EHV-1 Myeloencephalopathy or “EHM.”
Within hours of this horse’s death, equine events all across the western United States were cancelled including the upcoming Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association’s Cutting Show in Temecula this weekend. There is no cure for EHM.
In a statement issued by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, both infected horses had attended the National Cutting Horse Association’s Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah, that concluded on May 8th. The statement went on to explain that the disease is spread most commonly by direct horse-to-horse contact, but can also be spread through the air or by coming in contact with contaminated items such as equipment, clothing, or hands.
EHM can be fatal and results in death in about 30% of the cases. Symptoms include fever, decreased coordination, nasal discharge, decreased muscle tone and muscle weakness. One of the first signs of the disease is a rise in temperature. A temperature of 102-degrees or higher is typically the first sign of the virus. Checking your horses temperature twice per day is the best way to find out if your horse is coming down with the virus.
Dr. Kent Fowler of the California Department of Food and Agriculture said this morning: “We need to wait a few more days. At this point in time, this is not considered an outbreak.”
Fowler told Chatsworth Patch that rumors of the California borders being closed to inbound horses are not true. He warned that although we are not currently in an outbreak situation, it is still too early to tell what the impact will be to California’s horse population.
Currently, there are no confirmed cases in California. However, Fowler did say that he is awaiting lab results from one case of a horse that died in Bakersfield and that this status could change by as early as tonight. “The horse showed some signs of the virus.” he said.
In an effort to prevent the spread of EHM, Fowler said that all of the exhibitors from California who attended the NCHA Cutting Show in Ogden have been contacted and their horses have been isolated.
Fowler advised, “It can take up to 21 days to show signs of the virus.” Employing good biosecurity techniques such as isolating sick horses and having only one person handle the isolated horse, and washing your hands are key.
“If you’ve got a big event coming up in the next two to three weeks, it is too early to tell whether or not it should be cancelled.” Fowler advised that event producers should wait and see what happens over the course of the next few days to determine whether or not they should think about cancelling large events.
“Right now,” he said, “We’re using a combination of science and common sense.”
The NCHA published today on its website that it has cancelled its upcoming NCHA World Series of Cutting show in Oklahoma City.
Dr. Marta Granstedt, DVM, advised, “Be a good steward and if your horse looks sick, don’t haul to an event or leave the property.” She went on to say that horses should be kept on their regular vaccination schedule. “If your horse hasn’t been vaccinated against EHV-1, don’t rush out and do it now. But, if your horse is due for its regular vaccinations, go ahead and follow your regular vaccination routine.”
Both vets agreed that there is quite a bit of debate surrounding the effectiveness of the EHV-1 vaccines. There are more than 35 of them on the market and none of them carry indications on the product label that the vaccine can prevent your horse from getting the virus. Some experts in the industry think that the vaccines may help reduce the symptoms and lessen the severity of the disease, and also reduce the amount of shed virus from sick horses that can infect other horses. Some say that Pneumabort-K yields good results in broodmares, but skeptics say it is attributed to the fact that broodmares typically don’t travel, thereby limiting their exposure to the virus.
What everyone does seem to agree on is the importance of using common sense during a time like this. If your horse shows signs of illness, don’t allow your horse to leave the premises and call your vet immediately.