Equine herpes strikes West

Dr. Braden Shafer of Shafer Equine Services in Loma examines a horse with a cut on its front leg. The veterinarian is monitoring the recent outbreak of equine herpes in Utah. Fortunately, the horse above does not have the highly contagious virus.



A horse in Mesa County tested positive for equine herpes Tuesday after attending the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah, earlier this month.

An outbreak of equine herpes virus occurred at the event, and two horses in Colorado have been euthanized as a result.

Horses in four Colorado counties, including Mesa County, are being quarantined because they are suspected of having the disease.

The Mesa County horse that tested positive Tuesday was one of three horses under quarantine in the county, and the other two are exhibiting the same symptoms, according to Dr. Braden Shafer of Shafer Equine Services in Loma. All three are being treated for the virus.

Equine herpes myeloencephalopathy is a virus spread from horse to horse by sneezing, coughing and direct contact. Although humans don’t get the disease, they can spread it by carrying contagious material on shoes, buckets, brushes and horse tack.

Dubbed EHV-1, the disease displays itself first with a horse having a fever of 102 degrees or greater, nasal discharge and lethargy, said Dr. Bob Bessert of Desert Springs Veterinary Services in Fruita.

Later, it may progress to neurological problems, including instability in the hind legs and even an inability to stand up.

The three Mesa County horses under quarantine are at the same facility, where “they’re well-contained,” Shafer said of their voluntary quarantine. All three attended the cutting horse competition in Ogden, and all are being treated with an oral antiviral medication at a cost of about $200 a day, Shafer said.

In addition to the infected horses in Colorado and those showing signs of being infected, horses in Arizona, California, Idaho, Utah, Washington and Western Canada are suspected of having contracted EHV-1.

Veterinarians in the affected regions and state agriculture departments have been sharing information, Shafer said.

“We’re hoping that the horses that were infected don’t infect other horses, and that’s what’s created some of the hysteria,” Shafer said.

A horse on the Front Range that was euthanized showed “severe neurological signs associated with the disease,” according to a release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture on Monday. “A second horse was euthanized with similar symptoms, but test results have not been confirmed at this point.”

All of the infected horses to date participated in the Ogden competition the last week in April and the first week in May, the Agriculture Department said.

All of the equine veterinarians in Mesa County are working with the Department of Agriculture and other vets to try to contain the disease.

Bessert offered this advice to area horse owners: “If you were at that (cutting horse) show, or you traveled through Ogden with your horse since then, monitor the horse’s temperature and watch for nasal discharge.” If those signs appear, or the horse appears weak in the hind end, call your veterinarian.

Although there is no vaccine proven specifically to prevent EHV-1, there are vaccines that deal with different strains of equine herpes and may help alleviate the symptoms, he said.

If you haven’t been to Ogden recently, but want to show your horse elsewhere, you should keep all gear and horse trailers disinfected, minimize direct contact, especially nose-to-nose contact, with other horses, and don’t share water buckets, brushes or tack, Colorado State University officials said.

Those who aren’t traveling with or showing their horses should be careful about bringing new horses onto the property. They should be quarantined, well away from other horses, for at least 10 days and possibly as long as a month, Bessert said.

For information, go to the Colorado Department of Agriculture website, http://www.colorado.gov/ag.


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