By Ken Alexander
On the heels of the cancellation of the May 21 – 23, Little Britches Rodeo (and parade), the South Cariboo Rodeo Association Rough Stock Rodeo, and the Outriders Gymkhana in 100 Mile House, Dr. Gordon Laity of the Lakeland Veterinary Clinic in 100 Mile held an information seminar on Saturday, May 21.
Organizers cancelled the events as a precautionary measure, following the news of an outbreak of Neurotropic Equine Herpes Virus-1 (nEHV-1) traced back to a National Cutting Horse Association event in Ogden, Utah, April 30-May 8. Since that event, some 18 cases of the virus have been reported. They ruled on the side of caution because all strains of the disease are highly contagious.
Dr. Laity told the six people who gathered on Saturday he wanted to calm any potential panic that might be occurring because people are reading and passing along blogs and reports on the Internet.
This is not a new disease, as it has been around for a long time, he said, adding most horses have come in contact with it in their first year of life.
Noting the equine herpes virus (EHV), or rhinovirus, is an extremely common virus and there have been numerous outbreaks in the past, he explained that once a horse is infected, it always carries the disease.
“So they may have the virus at any age down the road, particularly if they are stressed, and they may even suffer from the disease again that they got infected with a long time ago.”
Dr. Laity noted it’s much like cold sores in people, which is also herpes virus.
He added there are two main strains of herpes virus, with strain 4 causing cold-like symptoms, resulting in a fever, a “snotty nose,” and lack of appetite.
Strain 1, he said, has the cold-like and respiratory disease symptoms, but can also cause abortions in pregnant mares and, in some rare cases, cause neurological (brain and spinal cord) disease.
There is no risk to human health, Dr. Laity stressed.
Noting this recent outbreak is particularly virulent, he said vaccination is not effective for the neurological strain of EHV, so there is no point for people rushing out to vaccinate their horses.
The main way to prevent the spread of infection is to isolate new horses arriving at a facility, he said, adding isolation for a two- to three-week period is a good practice in general.
Isolation is also important if a horse is showing symptoms because the air-borne disease is spread from an infected horse to other horses through nasal secretions.
It can also be transmitted indirectly by people caring for the horses (clothes and gloves) and the equipment (stalls, trailers, brushes and tack) they use.
“Changing your clothes and disinfecting any instruments after handling a sick horse would be a good idea,” he said, adding handlers should wash their hands with soap and water frequently.
Responding to questions, Dr. Laity said he didn’t think it would be risky riding horses in the South Cariboo now, as the risk is the same as it always was.
Because some equine events have been taking the temperatures of the horses before letting them compete, he said higher temperature is often the first sign. Anything over 38.5 C is considered a high temperature, he said, but owners should consider the environment the horse has been in, such as running around in the heat.
He added it wouldn’t be a bad idea for owners to take temperatures if they wanted to monitor their horses for signs of the disease.
If a horse is showing EHV symptoms, Dr. Laity said the first step would be to isolate it (28 days is recommended) and let it run its course.
As for preventive measures, he added keeping the horse’s stress level down should stop any latent disease from resurfacing.
He noted the horses at the Utah event were likely hauled in trailers, which makes them susceptible to many diseases, and is very stressful on the animals. This long-distance travelling, combined with being in close quarters with a lot of strange horses and the competition, he added, can be a recipe for EHV to spread quickly.
However, Dr. Laity said this isn’t what a horse, which hasn’t had a stressful moment for the past six months in a South Cariboo back yard, is likely experiencing.
“So, I don’t think I would be particularly concerned about this rhino outbreak. Just play it safe.”