Quarantine urged in horse virus outbreak

An outbreak of equine herpes has affected a small number of horses in the region and has owners on high alert.

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WALLA WALLA -- A Umatilla County horse is one of the latest confirmed cases of a highly contagious disease that has put horse owners on alert nationwide.

The horse has tested positive for equine herpes virus, but is showing no symptoms of the disease, said Dr. Andrea Adams, a large-animal veterinarian based in Touchet. The only other confirmed case in Oregon has been in Clackamas County.

In Washington state five cases have been confirmed, said Jason Kelly with the state Department of Agriculture. Two cases were diagnosed at the Washington State University veterinary hospital in Pullman and the remaining cases involved individual cases in Spokane, Thurston and Chelan counties.

The outbreak of EHV-1 has been traced to a horse show in Utah held from April 30 to May 8. Along with Oregon and Washington, the disease has also been confirmed in Idaho, California, and Colorado. Possible cases have been reported in several other states as well.

Horse owners locally and nationally are being strongly urged to cancel travel plans and keep their animals stabled to protect against contacting the disease.

"The biggest thing we want to encourage is for horse owners to keep their animals at home," Adams said today. "There is no safe meeting place right now."

Officials have emphasized the disease poses no threat to people. Symptoms in horses can include fever, sneezing, slobbering and other mild symptoms but may progress to staggering, hind-end paralysis and possible death of the horse. The incubation period is typically 2-14 days between exposure and when a horse begins exhibiting symptoms.

In a release Thursday, Washington State University 4-H Coordinator Pat Boy-Es said all 4-H equine activities in the state are being canceled through June 11.

"Gathering and co-mingling of horses not pastured together is NOT a good idea at this time," Boy-Es said.

The disease is spread from horse to horse through direct contact on feed, tack and equipment, or on the clothes and hands of horse owners. Because of this, horse owners are being strongly urged to implement strict biosecurity measures to protect their animals. Instructions on what should be done can be downloaded from the Washington state Department of Agriculture website.

Another local veterinarian, Dr. Douglas Corey at Associated Veterinary Clinic, said he would not tell a horse owner who was committed to traveling to an event not to go, but if they did they should make sure they take precautions.

"It's where you get horses that you don't know where they've been that you are taking a risk," he said.

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

On the net

Message from state veterinarian on virus: agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/AnimalHealth/HotTopics.aspx

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