Veterinarian refuses to cancel horse events
Eldridge: 'I sit down with the organizers and discuss the risks. They decide'
By STEVE BROWN
OAKVILLE, Wash. -- The Washington state veterinarian has no plans to restrict horse events this summer in the midst of an outbreak of equine herpes virus.
"I'm not shutting anything down," Leonard Eldridge told a group of livestock owners gathered at the Oakville Rodeo Grounds. "I sit down with the organizers and discuss the risks. They decide."
The horse community is in "a bit of chaos" right now, he said. A racetrack and the Washington State University teaching hospital are shut down.
More than 300 horses were exposed to the disease at a cutting horse event in Ogden, Utah, and more than 1,000 have secondary exposure, Eldridge said.
State veterinarians all over the West responded quickly, he said, and they developed a consistent protocol.
"Isolation is the key," he said. "That's what we're telling all these folks, and the owner population has really stepped up. I can't enforce a quarantine all over the state. ... Working with the industry is the best way."
Nick Cockrell, president of the Stockmen's Coalition, which sponsored the meeting with the state vet, said the virus also can affect camelids.
"If you've got llamas or alpacas, you're concerned," he said.
Eldridge said camelids are susceptible, "but they're not near as prone to getting it." He said he has heard of no such cases in Washington.
Plenty of misinformation is circulating on the Internet, he said. Reliable and current reports are available at his website -- www.agr.wa.gov -- and at the American Association of Equine Practitioners -- www.aaep.org .
"I've been learning a lot about EHV-1 since 2006 and in the past week," he said. "It's not a new disease, but we just saw it once in awhile."
No vaccine is labeled with claims to prevent this "mutant strain," he said, and companies are working to develop one right now.
Racetrack veterinarian Everett Macomber said existing EHV-1 vaccines can stimulate a horse's immune response, and he recommended boosters every three months during show season.
With the known infected horses locked down, Eldridge said, the risk of exposure decreases with time. Horses that have been on the same premises with infected horses should be isolated for 28 days, he said.
Though the outbreak has been contained and summer horse gatherings should be safe from the virus, Eldridge said, there is never a no-risk situation when horses mingle. "There's always a chance of bringing something home from events."
Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties' Stockmens Coalition: www.stockmens-coalition.org