EHV-1 count rises to 44 at New Mexico’s Sunland Park racetrack

Equine herpes virus.
The equine herpes virus.

The number of horses confirmed positive for equine herpesvirus-1 has risen to 44 at New Mexico’s Sunland Park racetrack.

The New Mexico Livestock Board said the animals were confirmed positive through the testing of nasal swabs or blood samples.

The infected horses are housed across 19 different barns within Sunland Park, meaning two more barns have been affected since the board last gave an update on numbers.

Two positive horses are from an adjacent training facility called Frontera, which is close to the Sunland Park track. Frontera has always been included in the original quarantine perimeter. Two other nearby horse-training centers, Jovi and Lazy S, are also included in the quarantine area.

Of the 44 infected horses, five have been euthanized due to neurological problems.

No movement of horses is being allowed in or out of Sunland Park’s quarantine perimeter.

Officials with the board, the state’s racing commission and Sunland Park are collaborating in their efforts to contain the outbreak.

“This is a fluid and rapidly changing situation,” the board said in a statement.

The outbreak was first confirmed on January 21 at the racetrack, which is home to more than 1600 horses.

Acting state veterinarian Dr Alexandra Eckhoff was among those who spoke to owners, trainers, and groomers who gathered on February 1 for two meetings – one in English, one in Spanish – hosted by racetrack officials.

Eckhoff urged personnel to maintain biosecurity controls, including washing their hands before and after working with a horse, disinfecting their clothing and footwear before and after working with a horse, and washing and disinfecting any items – buckets, grooming gear, saddles and other tack – that horses might have touched.

Barn operators are required to take the temperature of their horses twice a day, then record and report that information daily by order of the New Mexico Racing Commission. Fever is often the first indicator of EHV-1.

The racing commission last week said horsemen and women who failed to take and report the temperatures of their horses risked being fined $US250 and/or having their license suspended.

In addition to state government’s regulatory measures, Sunland Park has taken its own steps to control the potential spread of the virus.

Racetrack officials installed a compliance officer last week to ensure that, among other things, men and women at the track were taking and accurately reporting their horses’ body temperatures.

Samples taken from horses suspected of having the virus are being tested at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Diagnostic Services laboratory in Albuquerque.

EHV-1 is contagious and spread via a horse’s nasal secretions, either directly from horse to horse, or indirectly via human handlers, feed and water buckets, grooming gear, riding tack, and trailers.

“EHV-1 is not a death sentence for a horse,” Dr Tim Hanosh, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Services lab, said. “Most horses will get over the fever. Some will develop minor neurological signs they can recover from. And, unfortunately, a few will develop severe neurological problems they can’t recover from.”

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