EHV Coast to Coast: Filly Euthanized at California’s Santa Anita Racetrack Latest Chapter in American Horses’ Viral Winter

For the past six months, Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) has dominated horse health news bulletins from state veterinary offices in the United States. The news has urgency, and could be a matter of life and death for horses that have been in close proximity to the horse or horses in the outbreak alert.

As of today, the virus is simultaneously affecting horses from California to Florida.

And yet it is not even close to being an epidemic; fewer than 30 reported horses have been treated for EHV. But the fear factor is in that there is almost a randomness to the outbreaks: A state in the east, then a state in the west. A state in the north, then a state in the south. There have been Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and hunters and jumpers. EHV is a present in all horses, the veterinarians tell us. But why and when do only certain horses show symptoms? And why and when and where does the form of the disease turn out to be the dreaded neurological form?

Your horse is probably safe but our hearts go out to the owners of the horses all across the country who have been so unlucky.

The fall was dominated by a streak of cases and a lengthy quarantine at Illinois’ Hawthorne Park, along with cases in Cache County, Utah. On November 15, two horses were transported to the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine for isolated treatment of EHV.

We started the year with an EHV-positive Standardbred in Michigan, and the three-month isolation of racehorses in Illinois wound down, even as other states contemplated whether to allow the Hawthorne horses in or not. Three weeks later, a quarantine of hunter/jumper horses began in New Jersey, and quickly on their heels came an EHV case at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. EHV was obviously not just a racetrack problem.

In February, over one thousand horses were on alert at the HITS Ocala hunter-jumper show in Central Florida as horses there became ill; the quarantine there is still on. It affects not just the showground, but 13 farms in the area, as well. Horses as far away as the Wellington area were impacted by the outbreak.

Meanwhile, another outbreak in New Jersey quarantined horses in the southern part of that state.

Yesterday, three states chimed in: first, the state of Illinois announced that it had imposed a quarantine in Lake County after “several horses exhibiting neurologic signs consistent with those exhibited in EHV-1 infected horses” were identified to state authorities.

And in Utah, it was back to Cache County again for the state vet, as the state confirmed seven cases of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1). Two horses are dead, and as a precaution, the Cache County fairgrounds is now closed to horses, since sick horses had been competing or trained at that facility.

Tennessee was the third state; authorities there reported a case in Shelby County, with an active quarantine in place.

It’s only Thursday. Today, a headline caught my eye in the San Diego newspaper; a filly at Santa Anita Park outside Los Angeles had been euthanized on Tuesday. A few minutes later, a report from the California state authorities was issued.

The filly, named My Sugar Sugar, had been feverish for four days, and then developed neurological signs. Diagnostic tests at the University of California at Davis confirmed the EHV diagnosis.

My Sugar Sugar’s virus completed a network of isolated cases of equine herpes virus stretching across the land. There’s nothing to connect them except fate, or luck, or whatever it is that stirs up the virus.

The time has come for all American horse owners to get with the program and protect their horses. It’s not in someone else’s backyard anymore, it’s close to home. No matter where you live.

How to protect your horses: Step one in avoiding EHV is to educate yourself, and to arm your stable with simple biosecurity measures that can make a difference.

The Internet is well-stocked with information about EHV, and YouTube now has a dozen or so videos on EHV.

The University of California’s Center for Equine Health has good information in an easy to read format; it is set up like a multi-page mini-site dedicated just to EHV:  http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ceh/ehv1_general.cfm.

Keep an eye on The Jurga Report for more resources and information.

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