Equine herpes virus reaches Placer County

Two horses in Lincoln contracted disease
By: Elizabeth Speth Gold Country News Service
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Two horses in western Placer County have contracted the highly contagious and potentially fatal Equine Herpes Virus 1. The Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center confirmed that two Lincoln horses that participated in a National Cutting Horse Association show in Ogden, Utah, held April 28 to May 8, have been diagnosed with the virus. The disease can be fatal for three out of 10 horses. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a total of 54 horses from California participated in the show. Thirteen cases of the disease have been confirmed in the state, the department said, all of them in show participants. There has been one fatality in Bakersfield. “Many of the horses exposed during that show left infected, and spread the disease as they headed home. We really don’t know the ramifications at this point,” said Langdon Fielding, Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center hospital director. According to the University of California Veterinary School website, humans cannot contract EHV-1, although they can spread it on clothing, shoes and other surfaces. Symptoms in horses include lethargy, fever higher than 102 degrees, weakness or paralysis, and incontinence, the web site said. The virus transmission is airborne, via coughs, sneezes, and saliva. Horse owners who observe these symptoms are asked not to transport their horses into veterinary facilities. “We’re not treating it in the hospitals, obviously,” Fielding said, and added that treatment options are few. “There are no vaccinations, and all we can provide is supportive care, although we have been using anti-viral medication in some cases,” he said. Fielding called anti-viral therapy “controversial” because there are no studies that support its effectiveness, especially once symptoms start. “It’s very expensive, but we are trying anything we can (in the two Placer County cases) to get them feeling good enough to eat and drink,” Fielding said. According UC Davis, there have been aggressive outbreaks in California as recently as 2007. “This is normally a pretty common virus,” said Fielding, who owns several horses and is an avid endurance rider. “Sometimes it can affect the respiratory system, or cause spontaneous abortions, but this strain affects the nervous system,” Fielding said. Local riders and barn managers are taking veterinary advice and keeping horses close to home. Fielding said three weeks has been determined to be a safe incubation window. At Knickerknob Stable on Auburn-Folsom Road in Loomis, resident horses are confined to the barns and arenas, even though miles of Folsom Lake trails beckon from just across the street. “We have a lot of horses here, and we really can’t afford an exposure,” said Kathy Watts, stable manager. “We’ve just declared a ban against horses leaving the property until we know more. No shows or trail rides. It just seems like the safest thing to do,” Watts said. The Loomis Basin Horseman’s Association closed their popular King Road arenas until June 8, issuing a statement which said they are “sorry for the inconvenience, but our horses come first.” Events and horseshows slated to be held at the arena during that time have been cancelled. “Horse shows all over this area are cancelled,” said Kathy Dombrowski, board member and past president of the association. “Any event involving horses coming into close contact, people are thinking twice. It just takes one exposure, and the horses start falling like dominoes,” Dombrowski said. The Horseman’s Association maintains nearby Hidden Falls and Traylor Ranch riding parks, and advises using those areas with caution, according to their website. “We can’t tell people not to ride. We tell them to use common sense. Don’t graze your horses near the trails where other horses graze, don’t use common water troughs. Be sensible,” Dombrowski said. Dombrowski said she and her horses will be staying home for the next few weeks. The Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center is posting regular updates on the outbreak on their Facebook page. For more information, call the clinic at (916) 652-7645, or visit their website at