Novel rotavirus the likely culprit in outbreak of diarrhea in Kentucky foals

An uptick in foal diarrhea cases sparked an investigation by University of Kentucky scientists. Photo: Gluck Center

A novel rotavirus has been identified as the likely culprit behind a spike in diarrhea cases in very young foals in central Kentucky.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory say this new rotavirus cannot be detected using current diagnostic tests for equine Rotavirus A.

It appears to be different than the virus strain used in the currently available commercial vaccine.

Efforts are under way to better characterize the virus and determine its full role in the diarrhea outbreak.

Additional work is being undertaken at the university to identify other possible factors behind the outbreak, and researchers are sending out an epidemiological survey to farms to better understand what is happening.

Both the Gluck Center and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab recommend strict biosecurity protocols as the best protection strategy at this time.

The jump in diarrhea cases was noted during the first few months of the year, which makes up the bulk of the busy foaling season in Central Kentucky.

When the region’s farms and equine practitioners began noticing increases of diarrhea in foals ages 2 to 7 days old, there was concern.

Foals commonly develop diarrhea a week to 10 days after foaling, and veterinarians and farm owners typically have the experience and tools to respond.

It is important for a veterinarian to evaluate foals under a month old when they experience diarrhea because they can develop life-threatening dehydration in as few as six to eight hours.

A significant increase in the illness has affected some farms, while others have had few or no cases.

Despite this case increase, the university has not seen a rise in reported mortality as a result.

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