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EHV-1 outbreak cancels many Midwest horse events

Equine Herpes Virus, a particularly dangerous disease among horses, is rearing its angry head in the Upper Midwest, leading to multiple equestrian event cancelations and boosting veterinary alerts.
Barrel Racer by C Szmurlo - Creative Commons Licensing

Equine Herpes Virus 1 (EHV-1), a particularly dangerous disease among horses, is rearing its angry head again in the Upper Midwest, leading to multiple equestrian event cancellations and boosting veterinary alerts.

Sources say two or more horses have been euthanized with EHV-1.

Two horses apparently tested positive for EHV-1 on March 7, according to a statement posted March 19 by Stillwater Equine Veterinary Clinic of Minnesota. One of these equines reportedly developed neurological signs of the disease and was soon euthanized. Within less than two weeks, several other horses in the area began showing signs typically seen with EHV-1. Details are emerging.

Two positive EHV-1 cases (non-neuropathogenic strain) were from the same Chisago County facility in Minnesota, according to a March 20 statement by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The Wisconsin State Veterinarian issued similar information.

At least one additional horse has been reportedly euthanized in the region, with veterinarians pointing to EHV-1.

“At this time we are recommending that barrel horses do not travel to shows until these tests are completed and the extent of this outbreak can be determined,” the Stillwater Vet statement urged.

Multiple EHV-1 cases are suspected among horses in Eastern Minnesota and possibly Western Wisconsin, perhaps representing multiple equestrian disciplines.

A handful of sources have indicated some of these equines in question may have attended an indoor barrel racing event in early March in Winona County, Minnesota.

Stillwater’s Millhouse Veterinary Clinic issued this March 19 statement:

There seems to be an EHV-1 outbreak developing in the twin cities area with barrel horses being the focus at the moment. There have been a few that have tested positive and a few with tests pending but showing neurologic symptoms. At this time we recommend no horse travel, especially to barrel racing events, to limit exposure until we have more information.

SC Productions issued this March 20 cancellation notice for their March 29-30 barrel race:

Due to the current situation in the local horse community, regarding the EHV-1 Virus, SC Productions is going to be Pro Active by canceling our barrel racing event that is scheduled for next weekend March 29th & 30th. In order to stop the spread of the EHV-1 Virus is to stop the movement of horses. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter we highly recommend talking to your veterinary directly to get the FACTS! [sic]

Multiple Midwestern horse shows have been canceled.

End-of-March barrel racing events at Minnesota’s Arrowhead Arena and Oasis Equestrian Center have reportedly been tabled as well. Wisconsin’s Chism Trail Ranch and other facilities have followed suit.

In Tomah, Wisconsin, the American Competitive Trail Horse Association (ACTHA) Arena Obstacle Challenge and Fun Show, planned for March 22 at the Tomah Saddle Club, was also postponed.

No cancellation has yet been announced for the Minnesota Arabian Horse Show, scheduled for March 20-23 at the Minnesota Equestrian Center, although participants are asking if it will be.

Many major horse events in the region still stand.

The Midwestern equestrian season is heating up, with local show series underway and many major equine expos on the books. Here are a few of the most popular ones:

  • April 4-6 – Hoosier Horse Fair, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • April 4-6 – Iowa Horse Fair, Des Moines, Iowa
  • April 11-13 – Midwest Horse Fair, Madison, Wisconsin
  • April 25-26 – Minnesota Horse Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota

None of these events has been shelved at this time. Still, veterinary health precautions are likely for those who attend these and other events, particularly in the affected region.

Participants and spectators are advised to double-check clinics, horse shows, and other dates before embarking.

EHV-1 testing is ongoing, particularly among horses in Southeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.

Veterinary experts advise considerable caution and bio-security measures, especially for traveling equines, itinerant horse professionals (chiropractors, clinicians, equine massage therapists, farriers, horse show judges, saddle fitters, trainers, veterinarians), and others who visit multiple locations where they come in contact with horses.

The worst cases of the highly contagious EHV-1, including neurological ramifications, may lead to paralysis and carry high mortality rates.

EHV-1 is not new. The virus crops up perennially in various locations, with outbreaks tending to follow attendance of infected equines at popular events.

What can horse owners do to protect their equines during an EHV-1 outbreak?

Basic hygiene is a primary precaution, aimed at eliminating possible cross-contamination among horses. Quarantining potentially affected equines is a must, according to most experts. Restricting comings and goings of equines, and perhaps outside humans, during such an outbreak may be advised in affected areas.

Many horse owners may choose to keep horses in their own barns, forgoing travel while the EHV-1 outbreak persists.

If EHV-1 is suspected, horse owners or professionals may be urged to take and record horses’ temperatures once or twice daily, reporting any sudden spikes to veterinaries. EHV-1-infected horses may be contagious within a day of the first temperature elevation.

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