UDAF issues words of caution about cases of horse herpes across country

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food issued words of caution as a strain of herpes that affects horses spreads across the western United States. (Photo: MGN)

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food issued words of caution as a strain of herpes that affects horses spreads across the western United States.

As concerns increase in various horse event centers, stables, clubs and horse communities in the state about equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) and equine herpes myeloencephalopathy (EHM), UDAF Veterinarian Dr. Barry Pittman issued some follow-up words of caution.

“First and foremost, there have been no confirmed cases of EHV-1 or EHM in the state of Utah,” Dr. Pittman stated in a Friday press release. “However, considering the cases in surrounding states, the nature of the virus, and the co-mingling and stress levels of horses in event circuits, we are certainly susceptible to future cases.”

The Equine Disease Communication Center, which monitors horse infections and diseases across the country, reported the following cases of EHV-1 and EHM in March:

  • EHV-1: two cases in New York, one case in Washington
  • EHM: three cases in Arizona, one case in Iowa, California, Nevada and Idaho

According to the press release, there have also been sporadic reports of the diseases in April, especially in Nevada, Idaho, California, Wyoming, Texas and Canada.

Pittman stated that increased biosecurity measures by Utah event organizers, along with the postponement and cancellation of some events, and some horse owners electing not to participate in certain events has been a likely factor in no positive cases in Utah this year.

According to PetMD, the virus is very species-specific, so humans cannot be infected by the disease.

“Continued situational awareness concerning cases and quarantines in surrounding states, events epidemiologically linked to horses that may have been exposed, and diligence in monitoring individuals’ horses’ health will all help control the spread,” Dr. Pittman stated.

According to the press release, nearly all horses become infected with EHV-1 within their first two years, where the initial exposure generally occurs in foals from contact with their mothers. The virus can then reactivate in the horse during times of stress, such as strenuous exercise, long-distance transport or at weaning.

“This means there will never be an ‘all clear, no further risk’ as long as horses are brought together from multiple geographic locations,” Dr. Pittman stated.

Pittman encourages horse owners to seek information from reliable sources, contact event managers at places they plan to attend, increase health checks and stay at home for now if they don't feel comfortable traveling with their horses.

Veterinarians are also encouraged to contact the State Veterinarian Office if they suspect they may have a case of EHV-1 or EHM, or have collected and submitted lab samples for testing.

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