Horse with EHV-1 euthanized in Kansas

Horses carrying EHV may appear to be perfectly healthy yet spread the virus via the secretions from their nostrils.
Horses carrying EHV may appear to be perfectly healthy yet spread the virus via the secretions from their nostrils.

A case of Equine Herpes Virus-1 (EHV-1) has been confirmed in northeast Kansas in a horse which had attended a large barrel-racing event in Lincoln, Nebraska, two weeks earlier.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture animal health commissioner, Dr Bill Brown, said on Tuesday that testing of samples from the euthanized horse had shown it had been infected with a wild type of a non-neurotropic strain of EHV-1.

Samples had been sent to the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory on Friday, April 25. Preliminary tests showed lesions consistent with EHV-1.

Additional samples were then sent to Equine Diagnostics Services in Lexington, Kentucky. Results received on Tuesday afternoon confirmed the positive nature of the samples.

Brown said the horse had previously been to a large barrel-racing event in Lincoln, Nebraska on April 10-13, where in the days following the event a Wisconsin horse had also been confirmed positive for EHV-1 and euthanized.

He encouraged horse owners to monitor animals carefully for signs of the disease, including checking temperatures twice a day for changes and implementing good biosecurity practices.

The EHV-1 virus
The EHV-1 virus.

The virus is easily spread by airborne transmission, horse-to-horse contact and by contact with nasal secretions on equipment, tack, feed and other surfaces. Caregivers can spread the virus to other horses if their hands, clothing, shoes or vehicles are contaminated.

Symptoms of the disease may include a fever, nasal discharge, wobbly gait, hind-end weakness and dribbling of urine. The neurological form, including wild strains, of the disease is often fatal.

Kansas agriculture officials are not imposing any restrictions on equine events or movements at this time. However, horse owners are encouraged to take precautionary measures when traveling or participating in equine events.

The agriculture department suggested horse owners planning to participate in upcoming horse events across Kansas call ahead to event planners to confirm if the event was still taking place.

The neurological form of EHV-1 is a worrying disease for horse owners on several levels. The death rate among infected horses is concerning enough, but the highly infectious nature of the virus and an apparent marked growth in the number of cases in recent years in the US have scientists working overtime to find a vaccine and medications that will improve survival rates.

On top of that, nearly a third of horses that contract the neurological form die or are euthanized. However, horses can in some cases develop severe neurological symptoms when infected with non-neurological strains, as was the case with the Kansas horse. Once unable to stand, veterinarians have little choice but to euthanize infected animals.

The horse herpes virus is closely related to the chickenpox virus in humans, and most typically causes only mild flu-like symptoms.

Read Horsetalk’s essential guide to EHV-1 here.

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