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Owners Take Precautions to Keep Horses Safe from Deadly Virus

In Ventura County they're quarantining their horses to avoid spreading disease.

Lockdown is an unlikely word used on a horse ranch. In prison, it’s used during hostile situations, where inmates return to their cells to prevent movement and possible escape while a problem is controlled. But the term is in full force on many Ventura County ranches.

The precautionary reaction is to a recent outbreak of Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM), specifically the strand Equine Herpes Virus (EVH-1) that can be potentially deadly to horses; it could cause neurological syndrome, respiratory disease, abortion and neonatal death.

Jeff Wilson, manager of Classic Equestrian Center in Moorpark, heard of the virus shortly after the first public alert on May 15 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“At first I couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone . . . there was a lot of misinformation and various opinions,” Wilson said.

Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in the central coast provided Wilson with solid information and recommended the lockdown procedures – where no horses are allowed to leave the ranch or enter for a two-week period.  

The last reported case was on May 23, making the confinement period from May 24 to June 7, as the incubation for the disease can be up to ten days.

The virus is highly contagious to horses, not to humans. It commonly spreads by horse-to-horse contact, though it can travel by air, dust and clothes – and can live on a host for three days.

Wilson posted warning signs at the entrances to the ranch for all visitors, but especially toward the shoers and trainers that handle horses from other areas.

If Wilson’s ranch is the second ranch they visit in a day, shoers and trainers must change their clothes and shoes and disinfest all tools and equipment. They use a bleach solution or a product called Sanox II.

These preventable measures are taken seriously by horse trainer Carol Perkins, who had another related concern.

“Many horse owners have chosen not to give vaccinations to their horses ... and if they are stopping vaccinations they are putting their horse at great risk,” Perkins said.

The vaccine may provide prevention with the neurological form of the disease, but if given to a horse infected with EVH-1 it could actually cause death.

The general symptoms include a fever of 102 degrees or greater, coughing and nasal discharge.

According to a report by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 18 cases have been confirmed in the state. They spread over 12 counties, with one case in Ventura County. Citing privacy issues, representatives from the Food and Agriculture Department refused to answer which city in the county had the confirmed case of the virus when Patch contacted them earlier this week.

According to the Department of Food and Agriculture’s website, all positive confirmed EHM cases are under a state quarantine.

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