USDA: Deadly EHV-1 virus spreads to 75 horses nationwide; 11 dead
No new Colorado EHV-1 cases: 'Cannot let down our guard'

As the Biosecurity Turns: Our stable awaits EHV-1 test

One of our horses went to a show at which another horse came down with the EHV-1 virus. We are waiting for final blood tests to learn our fate. We hope others can learn, or at least get a good laugh, from what happened to us (all names have been changed):

May 16, 7:35 a.m., email from a client: … I understand that King was at an event this weekend. I don’t know who else went where but I would suggest that King be put in isolation and monitored with twice daily temperatures taken. Please read both of these (EHV-1 alerts) carefully. I also would encourage boarders not to go to other horse facilities and come back. I will stop going to (a trainer’s) ‘til this dies down.

There is no reason to panic but to just be smart.

8:24 a.m. from King’s owner: Is there something you want us to do with King to address this?  I put a call into Dr. X in hopes of gaining a better understanding and some additional advice.  Is this serious enough that Judy should stay away from other events, Pony Club lessons, etc.?

May 16, 8:44 a.m. message to clients: Ann tells me the vet school has shut down to all non-emergency clients due to a neurological equine herpes breakout. Very bad stuff, usually fatal. We are in no-travel-in-or-out mode until this neurological herpes alert dies down and/or is sorted out. No new horses will be accepted for at least two weeks.

King, who traveled to a show this weekend, has been moved to O/N #8 for isolated watch, and until I can get to Dr. X. Per the attached bio-hazard control instructions, he is to have his own dedicated pitchfork, and his manure needs to be piled, not spread with the others'. It can go down at the end of Pooh Lane where we had that circular area for turning the Gator in snow times. Let's leave one of the wheelbarrows by his isolation area, too. CLEAN King'S AREA LAST.

More details as soon as I learn more. Please read the attached handouts.

8:53 a.m. from a client: What about Lizzy working there (at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital – temporarily closed its doors to non-emergency clients because of the virus outbreak), can she spread it on her shoes/clothes/skin? Do we need to address proper decontamination for her (or anyone else)?

And what about those who clean King's pen last and then walk into another horse's stall/pen to visit or blanket or?? Do we need to put plastic bags over our shoes while in his pen and remove them immediately outside his pen?

9:48 a.m. from a client:Lizzy is on oncology (at CSU), not in the barn and any horses that might have signs of the disease would be in isolation. There is no problem there.

We are being precautionary with King. Peggy tells me that because of the cold and stormy weather yesterday there was no horse socializing at the event which is great. It is simple enough at this stage to handle King last, to wash hands, to keep separate feed bins, pitchforks, wheel barrow for him. Be smart. His temp will be taken twice daily. If he has a fever spike, then he will have a nasal swab for EHV and full isolation procedures would be instituted. Be smart, wash your hands.

9:51 a.m. from a client: I have the farrier scheduled for this Saturday for Athena.  Should I cancel and reschedule for the following weekend?  I read the articles and they said it can be transferred by people through their hands/clothing by not being washed if they came in contact with an infected horse. 

Let me know what you think.  She will probably be fine to wait a little longer.

10:27 a.m. from me to a client: Can humans get it from the horses?

10:36 a.m. from a client: No, no one at risk.

2:41 p.m. from King’s owner: In the spirit of full disclosure and to hopefully set the proper framework for this, I'd like to share with everyone the conditions of King's recent travel.  He attended a very small schooling show (a two stage) on the north side of (Anytown, USA) this past Saturday.  We arrived just 25 minutes before his dressage test and parked in a spot that was pretty isolated from other horses. Judy quickly tacked up then set about warming up King in an open field.  While she was riding her test in an indoor arena, a horse broke free and ran around the pasture causing Judy to have to stop then restart her test. Because of this, and because it was cold, windy and there was a 3 hour gap between her dressage test and the cross country portion of the event, Judy then put King back in the trailer (untied) so that he would be out of the wind and able to move around a bit.  He stayed in the trailer until 20-30 minutes before their second ride time, and rode then CC course.  We left the show immediately after collecting Judy's scores. I can tell you for certain that he did not have any physical contact with any other horses while at the show.  It was so cold and windy that the people at the show barely had contact with each other.  Judy and I spent most of your down time sitting in the truck. This is certainly no guarantee of anything, but hopefully it will provide enough information to at least ease some fears.

We are more than happy to help with this isolation procedure, and thank all of you for the extra precautionary work involved in keeping every horse safe.  We will be monitoring King closely and inform you all immediately should anything arise. (Hopefully it won't!)

May 17, 4:44 p.m. message to clients: Peggy called this morning to say she had turned King out into the front pasture because he was very upset at being left in (isolation). 

I wonder if this now means the front pasture is off limits to everyone but King, due to the possibility, though unlikely, that he was somehow exposed to the EHV-1 virus in his weekend travels, which is the reason for his isolation. So, I will have to declare the newly-repaired-and-opened front pasture off limits to everybody else for now. I have called the state vet, Dr. Heckendorf, for his opinion because I cannot find anything in the literature about the virus surviving in pastures. I had to leave a message, and have not heard back. Also tried emailing Dr. X, but he is swamped because his receptionist is on vacation.

If any of you veterinary types know the answer to whether the front pasture now must be quarantined too, feel free to chime in. Would love to get this question resolved ASAP. Meanwhile, please stay out. My apologies for the inconvenience.

May 18, 12:13 p.m. from King’s owner: I was just informed that the state of (XXX) has requested contact information for all of the participants in last Saturday's show because a horse that attended the show is now infected with this terrible virus.  From what I understand, and I don't have any official verification of this information, the son of the woman at the show with the horse in question was at the cutting event in Utah. His horse is also sick.  I have also heard that this woman had her horse at the clinic at (XXX) Ranch in early May. 

I have put a call into Dr. X and will do whatever he recommends.  From what I know of the horse in question, it was a late entry that the organizers fit into the schedule.  I don't know where it was relative to King's dressage test time, but I do know that it went first over the cross country course then immediately left the property.  Judy and King were third to last over the CC and were not in that area at the same time with the horse in question.

Needless to say, we are sick with worry, not only for King but for all of our horses.  Again, I am not certain of these details but know that if the state of (XXX) is asking for contact information, then it is definitely serious.  I will keep you posted as more information comes in.

12:19 p.m. from a client: Crapola.  So who is responsible for taking temps 2x a day? This may be very difficult for me, and others.

12:35 p.m. message to clients: We won't start temps 'til tonight. I want to verify the suspected potential exposure. If true, I will get thermometers/clipboards for those who don't have them. I can/will take temps for those who cannot. There will be some sort of charge, as I will have to take off from (the day job) to accommodate this. Let's just sit tight until we get good information. Fortunately, we have a lot of competent veterinary types at our fingertips.

12:56 p.m. from King’s owner: Dr. X to swab King. ... King is at pt in incubation pd where a nasal swab can show something. He's headed out now.

12:57 p.m. from a client: I'd like to make a few comments … The cutting horse show where the first horses got the neurological form of EHV-1 was held April 29 - May 8th. As of May 16th there were 2 confirmed cases in Colorado and action was taken at PRS. Because Equine herpes virus spreads very easily/quickly and King had been off the property at a show Saturday, he was put in isolation Monday morning the 16th as soon as it was recognized that the EHV-1 outbreak was involving secondary exposures (horses that were not at the show but exposed to horses that were at the show).

Please spend your energy doing the right thing and not panicking. The responsibility is on each one of us to be diligent with King's isolation as when any horse is put in isolation. Peggy is ramping up the reminders. The best thing we can do is to respect the procedures.

I have attached several sources of reliable info for you. They include general information on the disease, updates from the Colorado State Vet's office and suggestions from CSU on what to do with potentially exposed horses. We have been following those procedures since Monday with King.

1:14 p.m. from King’s owner -- I just spoke with Dr. X and this is the plan.  King will have three tests today: a nasal swab that will determine if he is shedding any virus, a virus isolation blood test will determine if there is any virus in his blood and a serology test that will be repeated later to determine any development of antibodies and signal if he was ever actually infected.  According to Dr. X, we should have results in 2 - 3 days and if the first two come back negative then we can all breath a lot easier. 

I will be putting latex gloves and hand sanitizer in the tack room for everyone to use. Many thanks to Ann for her advice and calm head. 

So far King's temperatures have ranged between 99.6 and 99.8. 

1:17 p.m. from a client: Thanks Peggy for being so aggressive with the testing. I wouldn't start taking temperatures from other farm horses unless King has a positive.

3:18 p.m. from a client: Note that a confirmed positive EHV-1 does not mean a neurologic case necessarily and a suspect is only a suspect. King may or may not be in that number.

May 19, 7:03 p.m. message from Dr. X:  Here is a preliminary report for King. The most important part is the PCR test is negative for EHV 1/4

May 20, 9:45 a.m. from King’s owner: King is not to be taken out of quarantine yet!!!!!

While it is great news the King tested negative for the virus two days ago, it does not mean that he definitively does not have it.  Also, the horse mentioned below is the horse that took the virus to the show last Saturday and not a new case that was borne from exposure at the show.

Thanks you all for taking the extra measures to keep King safely away from other horses and as happy as possible during his confinement.

12:01 p.m. message from Dr. X: Now that we have some test results back we do know that King is currently not shedding virus. That DOES NOT mean he should be free from quarantine at this point nor does it mean we should relax our efforts of good biosecurity measures. I just talked to the state veterinarian in (XXX) and confirmed that 1 horse from that show went home to Colorado, spiked a fever, and subsequently was diagnosed with EHV-1. It is not known by the (XXX) state veterinarian whether or not it was the neurologic form of EHV-1 or the respiratory form.  The horse was not showing symptoms at the show in (XXX), but that does not mean it wasn’t shedding virus. We just don’t know.  So for now, good news, but we must keep our guard up and wait this out.

May 20, 12:46 p.m. message to clients: Also, in case I have not been clear about our self-imposed restrictions: No horses are to travel in/out of PRS until the veterinary community relaxes. Do not ride your horse on the bike trail. Keep farriers away, if possible. If you, without your horse of course, have to visit another non-biosecure horse facility, please observe the clothing/travel guidelines in the attached pamphlet. The reason: There is no way of knowing where infected horses have been, and whether they shed some chunk of virus on/at a facility, floor, trail, arena, etc. Pamphlet trivia: Did you know you should blow your nose after visiting new horses?

Being grounded sounds draconian yes, but over the years Poudre River Stables has survived, illness-free, during outbreaks of vesicular stomatitis and strangles (distemper) when other stables got sick, so please bear with me. If you do take your horse to a public place, please stay away until we have the all-clear from the veterinary community. Those of you who saw my old, beloved Imp get West Nile even though vaccinated, go neurologic, and survive, only to get cast in his stall and be put down after a terrible struggle due to an overtaxed heart, will understand. We want to avoid a similar scenario at all costs. The situation at PRS is hopeful. Let’s (s)not blow it. OK, bad pun.

May 22, 10:02 a.m. message to clients: John accidentally turned King out into (group)Turnout #1 while helping with turnout this morning, confusing him with Thunder (who looks almost identical). Pickle and Jazz were in Turnout #1 at the time. Though potential contact between King and Jazz-Pickle was brief, Jazz will remain isolated in the Livery (riverside pens) quarantine area. Pickle is in the goat pen, until we can figure out a better solution involving some sort of shelter. Turnout #1 is now off limits until King’s blood tests come back. Hobbes and Thunder are now getting “turned out” to Overnights #5 and #6.

To minimize confusion, I will assume all of Pickle’s care; I am guessing Ann will do the same for Jazz.

12:26 p.m. from a client: May I suggest that you post the new "situation" info in the barn so any confusion doesn't result in further accidental possible exposure. I just don't think that everyone reads their email daily.

As the world turns ... Are you keeping notes for a daytime TV script?!

1:49 p.m. from a client: HA!  Poor John.  Yesterday I drove the gator to the red barn for lunch hay, then remembered I was supposed to feed the mix, so Chuck closed the gate and got back in and we went and got mix, and then I drove the gator to the red barn again.  DUH.   I meant to go to the turnouts to feed.  So I understand brain dead.

May 23, 10:16 a.m. from a client: Put a sign on turnout one that it is not to be used. Reiterate these directions on the white board. Peggy did this for the front pasture and it was effective.

As for contamination of TO one the herpes virus is believed to last 7 - 35 days in the environment. The time period is shorter if the area is dry and hot as in the clay based parts of the turnout. Areas which will harbor virus longer are wet and organic as in all the spots where manure accumulates. It would be very timely to clean that pen of the manure. Spreading it on the fields will allow the sun to bake it and dry it out. In general keeping the pens clean of accumulated manure especially when it gets so wet as in the last 2 weeks is another husbandry aspect of defeating the spread of disease, parasites, thrush, etc.

Too bad about this last incidence. We were doing so well!

12:16 p.m. to a client: I am fed up with boarding. It would probably be cheaper, and give me more personal horse time, just to pay the extra property taxes for non-agricultural land, or throw a couple cattle on the property for the agricultural designation, and sell them each year.

In hindsight, we may have been smarter to just tie King up, call Peggy, and have her trailer him away for watchful care with Dr. X, assuming he has isolation facilities.

The next time we have a possible outbreak exposure with a horse on the place, I plan to assign a single person to the isolated horse, nothing else … the isolated horse will be kept away from normal traffic, and the horse's gate will be locked. We'll take the existing Priefert panels, plus enough for a complete corral, and set them up in the east pasture by the water tap down there. The owner can rent a shade/rain cover if they need it. (I cannot build permanent sheds without a permit, and increased property taxes for improvements. Add the initial cost, and you have yet another formula for losing money in the stable business.) Same for a generator - the owners can rent one if they need electricity. The keeper of the isolated horse will access the horse from the Wood Street gate only. In winter, with no weatherized outlying stalls + utilities, we may need to send a potentially-exposed horse away, again, for watchful care with Dr. X or equivalent. In our latest episode, we did not set up hinterlands isolation, which led to potentially contaminating common areas, confusion, and mistakes.

On a more positive note, I'm hoping King's (clean) blood tests come back very soon, and we can put this behind us.

May 26, 8:53 p.m. from a client: Weren't King's test results due back by now?

May 27, 5:48 p.m. message to clients: King will have a 2nd set of blood pulled Tuesday 5/30. After talking w/Dr. X, the plan is: King can go back to normal when the 2nd set comes back clean, or Sat, June 4, whichever comes first. The blood takes a few days, so it will be very close, either way, assuming he is clean. Reminder: I am taking care of Pickle, so no need to worry about him. I noticed somebody threw a flake of hay that is now on his quarantine roof.

Previous coverage: Infections - death toll EHV-1

Epilogue: King never got sick, and his tests eventually came back "normal" for a horse that had been vaccinated just a month earlier. Whew!