Highly contagious horse virus puts Kitsap equestrians on alert
May 18, 2011 · Updated 8:28 PM
A horse from Central Kitsap was among the Washington state horses possibly exposed to a highly contagious virus that has led state agriculture officials to urge horse owners not to move their animals off their property.
An outbreak of Equine Herpes Virus type 1, or EHV-1, has been traced to a National Cutting Horse Association event in Ogden, Utah, April 30 to May 8, which the Bremerton horse attended. The horse traveled to Oregon after the cutting event and did not return to Kitsap, owner Sue Dahl said Wednesday. The horse is quarantined in Oregon and has tested negative for the virus.
According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, three horses — from Chelan, Thurston and Whitman counties — have been positively diagnosed. Results are pending on three more.
The Whitman County horse tested positive after being admitted for orthopedic reasons to Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital. WSU has placed the hospital on quarantine.
Several cases have been confirmed in California, Colorado and Utah.
The virus poses no threat to humans, according to the state Agriculture Department. Symptoms in horses can include fever, sneezing, slobbering and other mild symptoms. Serious cases of the disease are rare, but can include staggering, hind-end paralysis and death.
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. The Agriculture Department advises horse owners to carefully wash their hands and equipment to prevent the spread of the virus.
Suspect horses should be quarantined and evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. The virus can be viable from seven to 30 days.
State Veterinarian Leonard Eldridge advises horse owners to keep their horses home to protect against the virus' spread.
"While I have not yet placed any restrictions on the movement of animals, I strongly suggest that horse owners isolate animals that attended the Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah," he said in a message posted on his department's website. "For the protection of other horses, these owners are advised to keep their animals home for a couple of weeks."
Some area stables are keeping horses at home until the virus is brought under control.
Karma Huff, who trains and boards horses on a Clear Creek farm, said she's put her two barns on quarantine.
"No horses are coming or going," Huff said. "It's a big deal."
Many planned equestrian events in Kitsap are being canceled and horses may not be showcased in this weekend's Viking Fest Parade in Poulsbo.
"One group said they will not be riding their horses in the parade," Viking Fest President Ron Krell said of Poulsbo's Viking Fest Parade, which begins Saturday at 2 p.m. "They're thinking of trailering their horses in the parade. We don't get a lot of horse groups in the parade, but it wouldn't surprise me if groups cancel. (The virus is) really a bad thing, from what I hear."
Sue Knight of the Silver Spur Club in Silverdale said she's been asked by the state to cancel some upcoming shows. Horse games planned for May 22 have been postponed, as are barrel races scheduled for May 25. Silver Spur will not have horses in the upcoming weekend parades, she said.
Tim Byrd, president of Port Orchard-based Kitsap Saddle Club, said his members are following EHV-1 news closely. The club's next show was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.
"There is a scare about how it spreads through the state," Byrd said. "Our members ride all over the state, so you never know."
Horse-related 4-H events in Kitsap will be canceled for three weeks, according to an email from Kelly Fisk, a member of the Kitsap WSU Extension faculty.
"Isolation is one of the best biosecurity measures we can take regarding the EHV1 outbreak," Fisk said. "We are also working to educate the 4-H horse community and public about EHV1 and biosecurity measures they can take to ensure they reduce the risk of spreading the virus."
According to the Washington State Veterinarian's Office:
Exposed horses should be isolated and have their temperatures monitored twice daily for 10 days. Horses that show symptoms of EHV-1, such as fever, should be seen by a veterinarian. Diagnostic testing is required to confirm infection. Not all horses exposed to EHV develop clinical signs.
Positive cases of EHV-1 must be reported to the State Veterinarian's Office, (360) 902-1881.
Fever is one of the most common clinical signs and often precedes the development of other signs. Respiratory signs include coughing and nasal discharge. Abortions caused by EHV generally occur after 5 months of gestation.
Neurological signs are highly variable, but often the hind end is most severely affected. Horses with the virus may appear weak and uncoordinated. Urine dribbling and loss of tail tone may also be seen. Severely affected horses may become unable to rise.
For more information on the virus, visit http://www.aaep.org/ehv.htm
HOMETOWNS OF WASHINGTON HORSES
Thirty-four horses from Washington state participated in the National Cutting Horse Association show in Utah. Here’s where they are from.
Bremerton (horse is quarantined in Oregon, according to its owner)
Walla Walla (2)
Source: National Cutting Horse Association
— Herald editor Richard Walker and reporter Tad Sooter compiled this report