Horse virus slows
State veterinarians urge people to keep horses under quarantine
By SEAN ELLIS
Though an equine herpes virus outbreak appears to be under control, Western states continue to report additional cases and state veterinarians say horse owners should continue to take precautions.
The outbreak of a severe neurological form of EHV-1 was traced to a national cutting horse event held in Ogden, Utah, April 30-May 8.
As of May 26 -- states report their total cases to the USDA every Thursday morning -- there were 75 confirmed cases of EHV-1 in mostly Western states. That included 11 horses that contracted the disease and had either died or been put down.
Of those 75 confirmed cases, 28 showed symptoms of the severe neurological form of EHV-1. Dozens more suspected cases that may or may not be related to the outbreak have also been reported.
But the number of new cases is slowing.
"We are seeing a decline in the number of new cases," Idaho State Veterinarian Bill Barton said.
As of May 31, seven horses in Idaho had tested positive for EHV-1. One horse that tested positive for the disease was euthanized after showing severe neurological symptoms, while another with similar symptoms was euthanized but not tested. The positive cases in the Gem State were in Blaine, Bonneville and Canyon counties.
Oregon had four confirmed cases and a fifth horse that tested positive for the disease developed neurological symptoms and was euthanized. The positive cases in that state were in Clackamas, Deschutes and Umatilla counties.
The eight confirmed cases in Washington were in Thurston, Spokane, Chelan, Asotin and Whitman counties.
While additional cases continue to be reported, state veterinarians say none of them have occurred outside facilities already known to house horses that attended the Ogden show. Those facilities have voluntarily quarantined their animals and are restricting their movements.
Barton said the fact that the new cases are confined to already quarantined facilities is a good sign and "hopefully, we'll continue to see the numbers decline in prevalence."
But Barton and other industry experts said it would be unwise for the horse industry to decrease its vigilance at this point.
"I think we are on the downhill side of the virus, but it's not a time to relax or let down your guard," said Preston Skaar, president of the Idaho Cutting Horse Association. "People just need to keep their horses home for a while. I don't think it's over yet."
The outbreak has taken a toll on the horse industry in the West as most events and shows have been canceled or delayed indefinitely.
"This is just devastating to the horse industry," said Idaho Horse Council board member Connie Blayney. "A lot of people run private arenas and make a living doing that. This is really hurting their livelihood."
More than 414 horses were exposed at the Ogden event, and the potential financial impact of the outbreak is large. Skaar said cutting horses range in price from $15,000 to more than $100,000.
Before the recent economic downturn, it was not uncommon for cutting horses to sell for more than $100,000 and very common for them to sell in the $60,000 to $80,000 range, he said.
But Skaar said it's important for horse owners to keep in mind that EHV-1 is an equine virus, not just a cutting horse virus, and everyone needs to do their part to control it so the rest of the 2011 horse season can be salvaged.
Though some horse events such as the Idaho High School Rodeo finals are proceeding, most have been canceled. That includes the American Quarter Horse Association/National Cutting Horse Association Weekend that was scheduled for June 3-5 at 25 locations around the country before it was canceled.
The NCHA said in a statement that it would rely on the best available factual information and clinical diagnosis before determining whether to cancel shows scheduled for the weekend of June 10-12.