New website helps horse owners combat emerging infectious disease threats

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Caroline Wollman’s horse, Cody, showed symptoms of the emerging equine herpes virus in spring 2021. Photo: Supplied, CSU
Caroline Wollman’s horse, Cody, showed symptoms of the emerging equine herpes virus in spring 2021. Photo: Supplied, CSU

A sometimes fatal equine herpes virus that crops up in horses around the world has horse owners and barn managers fearing widespread infection when horses mingle during the show season.

Fortunately, a Colorado State University veterinary student has created a mobile-friendly website featuring biosecurity resources for limiting risks of infectious disease at equine facilities.

For Caroline Wollman, a third-year student in the Colorado State University (CSU) Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, the threat of equine herpes virus type 1 got personal when her own horse Cody was infected in spring 2021.

Cody was at a Colorado boarding stable where other horses tested positive for the virus, which can lead to a life-threatening neurologic disease called equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy.

Her horse was quarantined for a month, but because the symptoms were caught early, Cody recovered after about six months of intense rehabilitation.

Wollman had already started working on horse biosecurity resources during a CSU Summer Extension Internship with Angela Pelzel-McCluskey, the national epidemiologist for equine diseases at the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“The frequency of equine movements into and out of boarding operations presents a significant ongoing risk of disease introduction and potential spread at these facilities,” Pelzel-McCluskey said of the need for biosecurity resources like Wollman’s.

Caroline Wollman. Photo: Supplied, CSU
Caroline Wollman. Photo: Supplied, CSU

“That makes it extremely important that boarding facilities have solid biosecurity plans in place, not only to reduce the risk of disease incursion, but also to quickly identify and properly respond to infectious diseases should they occur.”

Wollman’s internship with Pelzel-McCluskey began just after the pandemic started, so it ended up being virtual.

“It was a time when many students, many people in general, just kind of curled up and couldn’t get much done, and she made a product that will benefit both her profession and her passion, helping horses,” said Ragan Adams, Wollman’s adviser and a CSU veterinary extension specialist and disaster preparedness and recovery expert.

“I was so impressed that she got the idea started during her summer internship but had the fortitude to keep working on it during her second and third year of vet school,” Adams said.

The website created by Wollman provides tips to horse owners who are looking for safe boarding stables — or signs that the one they are using is biosecure. It also has advice for barn managers who want to make their facilities safer.

Online resources

In addition to a biosecurity checklist, there is advice related to arriving/leaving a farm, quarantine procedures, day-to-day management, barn design, cleaning/disinfection and general horse health.

“It’s filling a gap in the biosecurity niche of the horse world,” Wollman said. “There were a lot of resources out there, but none felt fully comprehensive or acceptable. For the horse owner or barn manager, a lot of them were targeted around what veterinarians would say to clients. So our goal was to make this very readable, very understandable and usable on the farm.”

She said the fact that the site is mobile-friendly makes it easy to use during inspections.

“If we’re walking around a farm, we want to be able to look at our phone, look up, and see what things we can change to make this a more biosecure place,” Wollman said, adding that Adams was integral to the success of the project.

Wollman’s website is here.

Reporting: Jeff Dodge, for Colorado State University

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