The horse industry could face the "perfect storm" for an unprecedented nationwide epidemic of the deadly virus EHV-1, according to Dr. Paul S. Morley, a biosecurity-epidemiology professor at Colorado State University.
"A high-profile event like Ogden ... it has set us up for what might be called a perfect storm," said Morley in a webinar May 25 at TheHorse.com, a blog specializing in horse health care. About 300 horses were first exposed to EHV-1, which can damage the nervous system, at an Ogden, Utah cutting event earlier this month. At least another 700 horses were exposed when the original horses returned home.
Of the horses exposed, Colorado has the highest number of identified and suspected cases: 26 as of May 19, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
At least 65 horse events are cancelled across the country. States have quarantined barns housing horses originally exposed to the virus, and tightened horse-travel restrictions. Many stables are in self-imposed quarantine.
"Smart horses are staying home," said Morley. The cost to the horse industry, which depends on travel and competition to generate business, remains unknown.
EHV-1 is difficult to control because it lurks in horses' systems for many days before causing symptoms. It is not transmissible to humans.
The best defense?
- Rigorous biosecurity
- Make your veterinarian your new best friend
- Follow a regular equine vaccinations program to include the less harmful forms of the virus, which cause respiratory problems and abortions. There are no vaccines licensed to prevent the neurological form of the virus, but experts believe existing vaccines provide some protection, especially with regular boosters.
California, Idaho and Utah follow Colorado on the infections list, according to Morley, who gathered data as of midnight May 24. About 50 percent of the horses with confirmed cases have shown neurologic signs, which can include fever, impaired use of the hind legs, and limp tails. As of May 19, the USDA reported nine horses euthanized with the neurologic form of the disease.
Get the full story: TheHorse.com EHV-1 webinar
Biosecurity: Key to protecting your horse
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