KINGMAN - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is warning horse owners who attended the National Cutting Horse Association's Western National Championship April 29 to May 8 in Ogden, Utah, to keep a close eye on their animals for signs of the equine herpes virus.
According to the University of California Davis' Center for Equine Health, this particular strain of the virus has two forms. One can cause abortions in mares, the other can cause a respiratory or neurological disease which can be fatal.
The virus is similar to the human herpes virus in that it can remain dormant in its host for long periods of time and can activate under stressful situations, such as travel. The virus cannot be transmitted to humans.
Approximately 308 horses from 18 states attended the event, according to the USDA. The department has notified agricultural departments in each state of the outbreak and told them which horses in their state attended the event.
Since the event, 33 horses in eight western states (California, Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington) have come down with the disease. Of the 33 horses, 32 attended the event and seven have been put down because of the virus. According to the USDA, 21 horses from Arizona attended the event. There has been one confirmed case of the virus in Arizona.
Those horses were from farms in the central portion of the state, said Kingman Animal Hospital Veterinarian Erika Cartwright. The main concern about the outbreak is this particular virus strain appears to be very virulent. She has not seen any local horses with the disease. However, she is recommending that anyone who thinks their horse may have been exposed to the virus to isolate the animal from other horses and get a booster shot for all of their horses.
She is also recommending that residents not travel with their horses unless it is absolutely necessary.
Dog-sitting a symptom
The virus is passed through respiratory contact such as a sneeze from a horse and through contact with contaminated items such as clothing, equipment and hands, Cartwright said. Symptoms depend on the strain of virus but the most common signs are a fever of 102 and nasal discharge. They may also include weakness in the hindquarters and "dog-sitting," a horse sitting on its hindquarters like a dog, she said.
According to UC Davis, symptoms can appear between two to eight days after infection.
Some horses recover from the virus just fine, others recover but may never be suitable for riding and other horses die, Cartwright said. Anyone with concerns about their horse or questions about the virus should contact their vet.