Equine herpes outbreak appears contained

State veterinarians say quarantines limited the spread of the potentially deadly disease.

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WALLA WALLA -- A highly contagious disease that put horse owners on high alert last month appears to be winding down.

State veterinarians in Oregon and Washington have said the outbreak of equine herpes virus appears to be contained. The disease, which can be fatal to horses, caused nationwide concern in May leading to the cancellation of horse shows, rodeos, trail rides and parades.

The outbreak was traced to the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah, held between April 30 and May 8. Dr. Leonard Eldridge, Washington state veterinarian, said he believes sufficient time has elapsed for signs of the disease to appear in horses exposed at that event, as well as their stable and pasture mates.

Eldridge has recommended that any horse that has not tested positive, exhibited symptoms or been exposed to a confirmed positive horse be cleared for travel.

Dr. Don Hansen, Oregon state veterinarian said in a release the "vast majority" of horse owners in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest should feel free to participate in shows, rodeos and other events. The horses that have shown symptoms of the disease will remain quarantined in their barns or stalls and monitored closely until it is clear the virus is no longer present.

Eight horses in Washington tested positive, including four that attended the Ogden show. None died, although one horse was put down for an unrelated health condition.

Twenty horses from Oregon attended the show and five tested positive. One horse died. One confirmed case was located in Umatilla County but never developed neurological symptoms, said Dr. Andrea Adams, a large-animal veterinarian based in Touchet.

Along with Washington and Oregon, cases were confirmed in California, Colorado, Idaho and elsewhere.

Adams and Eldridge said swift action by horse owners to quarantine their animals were key to halting the outbreak.

"The prompt actions of horse owners across the state limited the transmission of disease," Eldridge said. "There is a lot of disappointment about canceled events, that's certainly understandable, but it's a small price to pay to keep our animals safe from this potentially deadly virus. I want to thank all horse owners and the veterinary community for helping keep disease exposure to a minimum."

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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