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Horse virus puts Kitsap on alert: Shows canceled, parade entries withdrawn as precaution

Horse shows have been canceled, parade entries have been withdrawn and stable owners have voluntarily quarantined their barns in Kitsap to guard against a potential equine virus outbreak.  - Tad Sooter
Horse shows have been canceled, parade entries have been withdrawn and stable owners have voluntarily quarantined their barns in Kitsap to guard against a potential equine virus outbreak.
— image credit: Tad Sooter

POULSBO — Horse shows were canceled, parade entries were withdrawn and stable owners voluntarily quarantined their barns in Kitsap this week to guard against a potential equine virus outbreak.

Fears were raised following after horses in California, Colorado, Utah and Washington tested positive for Equine Herpes Virus type 1, or EHV-1, which can be deadly in horses but poses no threat to humans. Three cases have been confirmed in Washington state, in horses from Chelan, Thurston and Whitman counties. Test results are pending for three others.

The outbreak was traced to a National Cutting Horse Association event in Ogden, Utah, April 30 to May 8. A horse from the Silverdale area (pictured below) attended the show, but was sent to a training facility in Oregon afterward and has not returned to Kitsap. The horse is quarantined and tested negative for the virus, owner Sue Dahl said Wednesday.

“It was really scary,” said Dahl, who sanitized all the gear and the horse trailer she used at the Utah event. “I’m glad to say I’ve done everything they’ve told me to. I didn’t want it to happen to us, but it happened and I want to be as responsible as I can.”

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.

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 barns on quarantine.

“No horses are coming or going,” Huff said. “It’s a big deal.”

Many horse shows and events both nationally and locally are being cancelled, a sign of how seriously horse enthusiasts are treating the threat of a virus outbreak. Late spring is a busy season in equine circles.

“This is happening at the height of the show season, so it’s really difficult,” Huff said.

Parade entries are also being pulled. Horses will likely not be featured in this weekend’s Viking Fest Parade in Poulsbo or the Armed Forces Day Parade in Bremerton.

“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 Sunday 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 EHV-1 outbreak,” Fisk said. “We are also working to educate the 4-H horse community and public about EHV-1 and biosecurity measures they can take to ensure they reduce the risk of spreading the virus.”

EHV-1 SYMPTOMS

According to the 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. Visit www.aaep.org/ehv.htm.

— Herald editor Richard Walker contributed to this report.

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