Equine herpes infects three Placer County horses

By: Elizabeth Speth, Loomis News Correspondent
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Three horses in western Placer County have contracted a highly contagious and potentially fatal form of Equine Herpes Virus 1. Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) is caused by the herpes virus and at least 18 California horses contracted it, said the California Department of Agriculture. Of the three afflicted Placer County animals, at least two are in the Lincoln area, according to the Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center. EHM can be fatal for 3 out of 10 horses, and is highly contagious. Humans cannot contract it, although they can spread it on clothing, shoes and other surfaces. The outbreak started at a Utah horse show in early May. Initially, it was only detected among the Utah show horses, but the agriculture department has confirmed there is now a secondary exposure. One horse in Bakersfield was euthanized, and one of the Placer County horses is suffering significant neurological effects, Loomis Basin medical said. “Many of the horses exposed during that show left infected, and spread the disease as they headed home,” said Langdon Fielding, hospital director at the equine medical center. According to the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine website, symptoms in horses include lethargy, fever higher than 102 degrees, weakness or paralysis, and incontinence, the web site said. The virus is spread by coughs, sneezes and saliva. Horse owners observing these symptoms are asked not to transport their horses into veterinary facilities. “We’re not treating it in the hospital, obviously,” Fielding said, and added that treatment options are few. “There are no vaccinations, and all we can provide is supportive care, although we have been using anti-viral medication in some cases,” he said. Fielding called anti-viral therapy “controversial” because there are no studies that support its effectiveness, especially once symptoms start. “It’s very expensive, but we are trying anything we can (in the three Placer County cases) to get them feeling good enough to eat and drink,” Fielding said. According UC Davis, aggressive outbreaks occurred in California in 2007. “This is normally a pretty common virus,” said Fielding, who owns several horses and is an avid endurance rider. “It an affect the respiratory system, or cause spontaneous abortions.” Local riders and barn managers are keeping horses close to home. Fielding said three weeks was determined to be a safe incubation window after the first wave of infection in the cutting horses. It was not known at press time if a secondary wave affects this window. At Knickerknob Stable on Auburn-Folsom Road, resident horses are confined to the barns and arenas, even though miles of Folsom Lake trails beckon from just across the street. “We have a lot of horses here, and we really can’t afford an exposure,” said Kathy Watts, stable manager. “We’ve just declared a ban against horses leaving the property until we know more. No shows or trail rides. It just seems like the safest thing to do,” Watts said. The Loomis Basin Horseman’s Association closed their popular King Road arenas until June 8, issuing a statement saying “sorry for the inconvenience, but our horses come first.” Events and horseshows scheduled at the arena have been cancelled. “Horse shows all over this area are cancelled,” said Kathy Dombrowski, board member and past president of the association. “Any event involving horses coming into close contact, people are thinking twice. It just takes one exposure, and the horses start falling like dominoes,” Dombrowski said. The Horseman’s Association maintains nearby Hidden Falls and Traylor Ranch riding parks, and advises using those areas with caution, according to their website. “We can’t tell people not to ride. We tell them to use common sense. Don’t graze your horses near the trails where other horses graze, don’t use common water troughs. Be sensible,” Dombrowski said. Dombrowski said she and her horses will be staying home for the next few weeks. “If there are no cases in the immediate area, I think the three-week time frame will be a safe one. That may change if we have local horses get sick.” EQUINE HERPES VIRUS 1 (EHV-1) What: Highly aggressive form of a common equine virus; does not affect humans. Spread: Horse-to-horse via coughing, sneezing, mucous, saliva. Symptoms: Lethargy, lack of coordination, fever over 102 degrees, incontinence. Treatment: There is no cure for EHV-1, only supportive care. Information: Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center,, on their Facebook page, or 652-7645.