By T. D. Thornton
With two Oldham County facilities where Thoroughbreds are stabled now under quarantine for two different strains of the equine herpesvirus (EHV), Robert C. Stout, the state veterinarian and executive director for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDOA), is urging horse caretakers to be hyper-vigilant for any signs of neurological or respiratory distress to keep the contagious disease from spreading further as the state embarks upon its crucial breeding and sales seasons.
When asked if the increased horse movement associated with the current Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale and the Feb. 6-7 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Winter Mixed Sale poses any particular challenges to keeping EHV in check, Stout said, “It could. Fortunately, we haven’t had to deal with it. But in a sale environment, it could be very difficult. That’s one reason why we are so, I guess you’d say, ‘extra cautious’ of [monitoring] those kinds of facilities, and especially if there are any ties [to disease outbreaks], which there really haven’t been.
“When receiving horses, vaccination is required to enter a training or racing facility in Kentucky,” Stout continued. “We try to be very timely in our response to any possible disease outbreak. The earlier [the KDOA] can get involved, the less [we] have to have involvement in. Another thing that helps us a lot is that the people involved in the horse industry in Kentucky take it very, very seriously, and for the most part are team players. They understand that what’s good for one is good for all, and if that means a little sacrifice somebody’s part for the good of everybody, they’re usually willing to take it, and I think that’s an extremely important thing when dealing with an outbreak.”
Stout confirmed that Kentucky’s first reported EHV case of 2017 occurred at an Oldham County facility that “mostly” houses Thoroughbreds. The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) reported that Jan. 4 case as a 2-year old filly that showed evidence of urine dripping, which is a sign of a potential neurologic disease.
“That index horse was a Thoroughbred, but there are some other breeds on that farm also,” Stout said. “The first one was the mutant strain, some people call it the neurologic strain, and that horse had, if any, very mild neurologic signs. It is my understanding from the attending veterinarian that that horse is recovering. A couple other horses were positive on subsequent testing. They have been isolated off the premises, and as far as I know are progressing very well. Of course the facility, in that case, remains quarantined.”
Stout continued: “The other one is a somewhat larger facility, all Thoroughbreds, a training facility. That is the ‘wild strain.’ That horse showed no neurologic signs, pretty much had some mild respiratory signs and a fever; was isolated and has since moved back to the owner’s residence in another state, so is off the premises. I think there are 30 horses in the infected barn, which is quarantined. Those horses were all tested [Jan. 11] and those results will be [available] probably [Thursday] evening. The other five barns at that facility are under enhanced biosecurity and temperature logs, with at this point in time no problems reported.”
Other than confirming the cases by the county name, Stout declined a TDN request to identify the specific names or locations of the two quarantined facilities.
“We usually don’t do that. People in the know will probably know where they are, but we don’t publicize the horses’ names, or owners or trainers or the facilities,” Stout said.
The most widespread of the reported cases of EHV in the United Sates in the past six weeks have centered on multiple outbreaks and quarantines at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.
The most recent update from the EDCC pertaining to the Fair Grounds, dated Jan. 9, reads in part: “To date seven horses have tested positive for EHV-1 at the Fair Grounds racetrack, two positive for the neuropathogenic strain and five positive for the non-neuropathogenic (wild type). The index case diagnosed with neuropathogenic EHV-1 was euthanized and the other six cases are in isolation. Four barns are currently under quarantine,” in addition to the no-horses-in-or-out general quarantine for the entire racetrack.
Reacting to the Fair Grounds quarantine, other jurisdictions have swiftly moved to protect their horse populations against exposure to EHV.
On Jan. 4, the EDCC reported that “the Kentucky Office of State Veterinarian is directing that no horse that has resided or been on a Louisiana race track or training center since Dec. 10, 2016, shall be allowed entry onto a Kentucky racetrack at this time. Any horse that has been in these environments must come with certification that they have been removed a minimum of 30 days to qualify for entry onto a Kentucky racetrack in addition to their meeting standard health requirements.”
On Jan. 2, Oaklawn Park announced that “no horses that have been in Louisiana in the last 30 days will be permitted on the grounds” until further notice.
Delta Downs, which is 230 miles west of New Orleans, posted the following notice on its overnight for the Jan. 20 races: “Following recent reports of additional cases of EHV-1 in Louisiana, Delta Downs has decided to extend our current quarantine on all horses until Monday, Jan. 16. We still have not had any reports of EHV-1 at Delta Downs, but are extending the quarantine out of an abundance of caution, in order to avoid the further spread of EHV-1 at our state’s racetracks.”
In 2016, outbreaks of EHV touched off quarantines at Thoroughbred tracks and training facilities in Florida, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Nebraska. Anecdotally, at least, it seems as if the prevalence of EHV has been increasing. Stout was asked if incidences of EHV are truly on the rise or if veterinarians and agricultural regulators are just getting better at detecting and reporting them.
“Probably yes to both of those,” Stout replied. “I practiced for some 30 years, most of those in the equine industry, and I don’t remember there being the outbreaks that we’ve had in recent years.
“We understand the disease better,” Stout continued. “We have much better diagnostic tools now, especially with PCR [polymerase chain reaction panels], where we can get much quicker, much more defined diagnosis. I think there’s also an increased awareness. It’s a combination of things, but I would agree that it certainly appears that we’ve had more of [EHV-1] in the last decade, decade and a half than we previously did. Experts will tell you this virus has probably been around since the beginning of time