Horsemen riding out herpes outbreak

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SALEM, Ohio - Nearly 1,000 horses and their equipment will rotate in and out of the stall area at the Ohio Expo Center in a few weeks for the annual Equine Affaire.

Event organizers are confident the recent scare with the infectious equine herpesvirus rhinopneumonitis won’t deter exhibitors. The disease killed 14 horses at the University of Findlay and is linked to the deaths of two horses in Pennsylvania.

Other stables continue to have closed barns, not willing to take chances with the virus.

Proactive. Since Ohio State’s recommended and self-imposed quarantine will be over when Equine Affaire rolls around April 10-13, organizers of the event aren’t too worked up.

“We’re reassuring our exhibitors to do everything they normally do as far as vet checks and anything else they might do with any infectious disease,” said Kristin Kauffman, a marketing associate for the Affaire.

“It shouldn’t really affect our show too much,” she said.

Still, potential exhibitors have inquired about their horses’ safety and prompted the Affaire group to issue information and reports from Ohio State University and state officials to some exhibitors.

Those reports quote state veterinarian David Glauer as saying, “It is business as usual in Ohio,” and the shows will go on.

The show goes on. Some shows across the state are canceled and other venues are just now lifting quarantines and rescheduling events.

The University of Findlay English riding facilities underwent a self-imposed 21-day quarantine, lifted March 7.

Ohio State’s veterinary hospital also instituted a self-imposed quarantine due to treating University of Findlay horses there.

The 21-day period is three times longer than the infective period for the virus in horses, according to George Allen, well-known researcher of the virus from the University of Kentucky.

Collegiate. Students were disappointed when Lake Erie College’s equine center canceled all shows in March, but are excited to get things moving again.

The center, located in Concord Township near Painesville, has plans to reopen the facility for shows April 1.

“We were concerned since we do a lot of shows,” said Dane Hoff, facility manager. “We erred on the side of caution.”

The college’s equine center houses 35 student-owned horses and a total of 100 horses, he said.

Though several of the equine team’s shows use only horses stabled at the college, other hunter-jumper and dressage classes require participants to bring their own animals.

In March, students have participated only in internal shows and clinics.

Though the school continues to watch the situation, Hoff said there have not been any indications of the disease on the college’s property.

Back in Findlay. Findlay’s English riding program classes resumed March 10.

The horses infected with the disease at the school showed signs including fever, snotty nose and depression, according to business manager Dave Duncan.

In all, 45 horses developed some type of neurologic deficits. To date, only three of the 138 horses stabled at the university are still recovering.

The outbreak hit “hard and fast” and the horses deteriorated quickly from the first signs of infection Jan. 12, Duncan said.

Though Duncan said he still doesn’t know how the virus entered the barn, he indicated that almost all of the horse population is exposed to the virus before age two.

In addition, he said the virus is “deeply entrenched” in the worldwide horse population and outbreaks are not uncommon.

Findlay’s situation just got more attention, he said.

“Will we find the culprit? No. They don’t always show signs. We won’t know how we got this,” he said.

“People are very hysterical about this and think it’s like the plague. Still go to horse shows, just don’t put your head in the sand. Use common sense and everything will be fine,” he said.

Signs of virus. Clinical signs of the virus strain include upper respiratory infection including cough, depression, poor appetite and nasal discharge.

Other neurological signs include fever and incoordination. In extreme cases, results are inability to stand, swelling of the limbs and small hemorrhages on the gums.

The virus may also result in abortion in pregnant mares.

Disease can be mild or unapparent in older horses, according to a fact sheet written by Catherine Kohn, a professor in Ohio State’s department of veterinary clinical services.

The disease has an incubation of six to eight days and spreads via respiratory secretions, tack, and contaminated feed and water. The virus can live in bedding or organic material.

No vaccination is available for the neurologic strain that hit the Findlay horses, but herpesvirus vaccines are available for other strains.

Though not all infected horses die, the infection is life-long. Horses that become infected might take years to recover.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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