Horse owners to be more aware of equine herpes virus

Many rodeos were recently rescheduled in the Central Alberta area due to an outbreak across Western Canada and the United States of the highly contagious equine herpes virus, EHV-1.

Even small town parades saw fewer horses due to the ease with which the virus spreads.

The outbreak gained notice at a cutting event in Ogden, Utah, where horse and rider separate cattle from their herd, and has had little to no impact on the show-jumping groups because there is so little overlap between the two sports.

“EHV-1 doesn’t affect people or pets. It is a horse virus and there are no human health concerns,” said Chief Provincial Veterinarian Gerald Hauer.

Hauer said the original virus has been around many years, dating back as many as 10. It causes respiratory problems in young horses, abortions in mares and rarely neurological problems that can be very serious.

However, the strain that recently broke out is nEHV-1 which is a neurotrophic form of the virus that is more likely to cause neurological problems and is recognized as being more severe.

“We recommend that people become familiar with the infection control procedures including washing hands after being around a sick horse, washing equipment or not sharing equipment between horses, and calling a vet if your horse seems sick,” said Hauer.

Symptoms that are indicative of the virus include respiratory problems, fever, and lack of coordination.

In Alberta, the disease is only classified as notifiable. This means that the disease should be reported to the province but they will not require the horse to be put in quarantine; they simply notify other owners and vets.

In the two and a half years that the disease has been deemed notifiable this is the first time the province has ever been made aware of a case.

Hauer says that owners have been very responsible about the disease.

“You can do your part to keep your friends, partners and neighbours’ horses safe by keeping sick horses home and in quarantine.”

And while many local rodeos were cancelled, this was not mandated to them.

“The rodeos not running would have been the call of the organizers. What we have been recommending was to be aware of the situation and talk to the event vet and assess the risk of carrying on.”

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