Steelman: Horse owners should be aware

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Horse owners who are getting ready to hit the road for the spring show season are also facing a serious health concern. Over the weekend veterinarians at Michigan State University had to euthanize a horse infected with equine herpesvirus, or EHV-1.

This is Michigan's 1st case of the virus in 2015, making it the 6th state to have a horse with the virus die this year.

Almost all horses have been infected with EHV-1 by the time they are 2. In most cases, the virus is dormant, but travel and stress can bring out the disease into an active, aggressive state.

"It's an airborne," explained Nutritionist Dr Ginger Southall, "not through bodily fluids, so just like it can be transported from horse to horse, we have to be careful for ourselves, and certainly other animals, in that we keep our immune systems strong."

Foals usually contract the virus from their mothers and then become carriers. Horses that carry the virus show no signs while the virus is dormant. Long distance travel, stress, and strenuous activity can activate the virus.

"If they are ever off their feet at all, that's usually your 1st sign that they don't quite feel that good, so we watch their water and feed intake," said Mary Luther-Eggleston, who trains performance horses at Northland Stables. "From there they show signs like people: they might cough, they might have a runny nose, they might have runny eyes."

After the initial signs, neurological signs appear as a result of damage to the blood vessels in the brain and spinal cord. Many horses fighting the virus will have trouble standing or be unable to get up.

Brushes, water buckets, feed, and human contact with infected horses can spread the virus in seconds. What many horse owners don't know is even the air around a horse shedding the virus can spread the potentially deadly disease.

Jennifer Holton with the Michigan Department of Agriculture told Fox 17 that they are investigating the case. Holton believes it is currently an isolated incident involving a barrel racing horse.

[This disease can spread fairly fast. It is often recommended to take the animal's temperature at least twice a day to help catch an early rise, which may be the 1st sign of the disease. If there is a rise in resting temperature (1st thing in the morning, before the animals have begun to move around much), then it is advisable to contact your veterinarian immediately.

This disease is often abbreviated as EHV for equine herpesvirus or EHM for equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy.
Equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) infection in horses can cause respiratory and neurological disease, abortion in mares, and neonatal foal death.
The neurological form of the disease is known as equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) and has the potential to cause high morbidity and mortality.

EHV-1 is easily spread and typically has an incubation period between 2 and 10 days. Respiratory shedding of the virus generally occurs for 7-10 days but may persist longer in infected horses. For this reason, the isolation period recommendation for confirmed positive EHM cases is 21 days. Clinical signs of EHM in horses may include nasal discharge, incoordination, hindquarter weakness, recumbency, lethargy, urine dribbling, and diminished tail tone. The prognosis for EHM positive horses depends on the severity of signs and the period of recumbency. Employing supportive treatment with intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs, antiviral drugs, and other supportive measures may be beneficial, since there is no specific treatment for EHM.

Currently, no EHV-1 equine vaccine has a label claim for protection against the neurological strain of the virus.
This is a disease that has a profound effect on horses and owners.

Horses have a very tough time recovering from this disease, and owners have a difficult time treating or euthanizing their pets/companions.
This disease is not to be toyed with. Owners should heed the words of the veterinarians. Enforce the rest and isolation of your horse.
Protect your horse and other horses as well.

Portions of this comment have been extracted from <>.

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Bruce Steelman
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