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The Utah veterinarian warns of potential horse outbreaks

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah State Veterinarian Barry Pitman is warning horse owner to take precautionary measures to avert a potentially fatal outbreak of horse horses.

The fear of an outbreak that extended in Utah led to several college rodeos being discontinued as owner attempts to prevent the spread of the virus, causing more than 160 horses to be euthanized in 2011-12.

"First of all, there have been no confirmed cases of EHV-1 or EHM in the state of Utah" Pittman said. "But considering the cases in the surrounding states, the nature of the virus and the horse and the stress levels of horses in event circles, we are certainly susceptible to future cases."

In March, Equine Disease Communication Center reported three premises, two in New York and one in Washington, affected by the equine herpes virus. Seven premises logged cases of the virus mutant strain from March in Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, California and Nevada. The mutant strain is called equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy that affects the central nervous system.

In April, there have been occasional cases in additional states as well as Canada.

Although almost all horses are infected with the virus at a young age and are carriers without symptoms, the virus can be reactivated under stress in events that include strenuous exercise, long-distance transport or weaning, Pittman said.

"That means that there will never be a" clear, no longer risk, "as long as horses are brought together from multiple geographical locations," Pittman said.

He urged horse owners across the state to seek out information from trusted sources, contact event managers they plan to enter, increase the health checks of their animals and stay home if they do not feel comfortable traveling with their horses.

Pittman, working for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, credits biosecurity measures by organizers in Utah to postpone or cancel any events and voluntarily withdraw from certain events as several factors that have kept the infectious virus from the state so far.

Horses graze on a field in Magna on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. An outbreak of equine herpes in neighboring countries calls for a warning from the Utah veterinarian. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)

Equine herpes is not a sexually transmitted disease and passes through nasal contact among infected horses, mules or burros. It is also spread by contaminated equipment, such blankets or buckets. People can't catch it.

Symptoms include fever, decreased coordination, nasal discharge, loss of stent, weakness in posterior limbs and leaning against a fence or wall to maintain balance. Animals get dull and I can't get up from the ground.

Pittman said a southern Utah horse had competed in a stallion future in Las Vegas, was possibly exposed and had to be euthanized.

The veterinarian does the testing on that animal also excludes the mutated strain of herpes and West Nile virus, so further testing is done. Pittman said that student practitioners who build competition points or try to get scholarships on the rodeo circuit are most negatively affected.

In Nevada, Steve Stallworth, head of the South Point Arena and the Equestrian Center, said they will "exercise extreme caution" but will continue to host upcoming events as planned.

"Security and safety is a priority," Stallworth said in a statement. "We work closely with the state veterinarian and our own veterinarian to ensure that all precautions and necessary disinfection measures have been made to the entire plant."

Additional information can be found online at the Horse Disease Communication Center.

Contributor: Associated Press


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