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Horses quarantined: What is Vesicular Stomatosis?

Vesicular Stomatitis is an infectious virus belonging to the Rhabdoviridae family, much like Rabies and Hoof-and-Mouth Disease.
Vesicular Stomatitis is an infectious virus belonging to the Rhabdoviridae family, much like Rabies and Hoof-and-Mouth Disease. Nuzzling Horses - Creative Commons Licensing

Vesicular Stomatosis arises periodically in such animals as alpacas, cattle, deer, goats, horses, llamas, sheep, and swine. The latest outbreak of the virus was reported May 28 by the Texas Animal Health Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, leading to a 21-day (or longer) quarantine of a handful of horses in southwest Texas.

The Kinney County cases draw attention again to the contagious virus known as vesicular stomatitis.

What is Vesicular Stomatitis?

Vesicular Stomatitis is an infectious virus belonging to the Rhabdoviridae family, much like Rabies and Hoof-and-Mouth Disease. The virus is mainly seen in the Western Hemisphere in warmer months.

Because the virus’ symptoms may resemble those of other conditions, confirmed diagnosis is based on laboratory analysis of fluid swaps from affected animals’ lesions. Bloodwork may be performed as well.

What are the symptoms of Vesicular Stomatitis?

The most prevalent symptoms include:

  • Blisters, lesions, or ulcers – mostly around the lower abdomen, hooves (primarily the horse’s coronet), mouth, muzzle, nostrils, sheath, udder, or other less-hairy parts of the body
  • Diminished appetite
  • Drooling and excessive salivation
  • Fever
  • Lameness – often caused by lesions on the hooves
  • Oral sores – on the gums, lips, tongue and roof of the mouth
  • Refusal to drink
  • Weight loss

The lesions can be extremely painful, especially after they swell and rupture.

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How contagious is Vesicular Stomatitis?

Veterinarians generally point to insect bites as a major cause of viral transmission. Black flies and sand flies may be particularly to blame. The virus may also be passed between animals, especially within herds, where members live in close contact with one another.

The incubation period for Vesicular Stomatitis usually lasts from two to eight days. Infection seems to spread most often in affected animals’ saliva and the fluid from open lesions.

Is Vesicular Stomatitis a life-threatening disease?

The virus is generally not known to be fatal, although secondary infections can arise, especially in health-compromised animals.

Can humans catch Vesicular Stomatitis?

The virus has been identified as zoonotic, meaning it is capable of passing between species. Human infections have been seen over the years, usually such causing flu-like symptom as fever, headache, muscle aches, and overall weakness. Some individuals have also developed blisters and sores. Human cases tend to last three to five days.

Veterinary experts have suggested the virus may be transmitted through an animal’s saliva into a human’s cut, or through the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Gloves and masks may offer protection, when humans handle infected animals.

Is Vesicular Stomatitis treatable?

So far, no cure or specific treatment exists for the virus. Affected animals may receive antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and intravenous hydration, if needed, to address possible secondary infections and symptoms.

Antiseptic mouthwashes, applied topically and sparingly for oral lesions, may offer some temporary relief.

How long does Vesicular Stomatitis generally last?

Most animals recover in approximately 10 to 14 days. Blisters and lesions tend to heal within a few weeks.

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What precautions should be taken against Vesicular Stomatitis?

Because the virus is contagious, animal owners or managers are advised to practice hygienic and biosecurity procedures and to seek veterinary assistance immediately, if symptoms arise. Shared turnouts or feed and water receptacles are ill advised during an outbreak, for example.

Vesicular Stomatitis is considered a reportable condition, but it is not listed among the infectious diseases on sites like Outbreak-Alert, which tracks Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Equine Herpes Virus (EHV), Equine Influenza, Potomac Horse Fever (PHF), Rabies, West Nile Virus (WNV), and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE).

Livestock-specific insecticides and other pest prevention practices may help minimize insect-borne transmission of Vesicular Stomatitis as well.

Quarantines are likely, if animals are diagnosed with Vesicular Stomatitis. Isolation generally lasts until lesions are healed.