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Highly contagious neurological disease confirmed in horse in The Plains

Tuesday, Apr. 15 | By Fauquier Times staff
Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
An equine neurological disease caused by a virus has been confirmed in a horse from The Plains.

The horse had equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy, and Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the animal was euthanized Friday.

VDACS has been investigating the matter and hasn't found any other cases, the agency said. Field veterinarians reported that horses from the farm where the euthanized horse was boarded did not have contact with other horses in the state.

“EHM is a highly contagious disease,” Wilkes said in a prepared statement Monday, “but we did not find any additional horses displaying fevers or clinical signs of the disease on the farm over the weekend. The disease can appear in horses that have not been exposed to horses showing disease signs, however, so we are still monitoring the situation carefully and advise horse owners to continue to practice strict biosecurity.”

The disease is often fatal. It's caused by the Equine Herpesvirus-1. Symptoms may include a fever, nasal discharge, wobbly gait, hind-end weakness and dribbling of urine.

Horses on the farm in The Plains where the sick horse was found will remain under quarantine for 21 to 28 days from the last exposure to the virus, the incubation period for EHM, VDACS said.

Wilkes commended farm management and their veterinarian at the Fauquier County farm for their quick recognition of the clinical signs and for initiating the testing that led to the diagnosis of EHM.

Although he still urges owners to prevent contact of healthy horses with any that may be exposed to EHM-infected animals, he said in a VDACS statement that the rapid detection of disease in the initially infected horse may have helped limit the scope of this disease event.

“The farm management kept excellent records of movement on and off the farm that provided excellent information for VDACS staff to identify exposures of other horses,” he said.

The infected horse, a steeplechase eventer, competed at the Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point Salem Course in Upperville on March 22, VDACS reported this morning.

It is likely that any horses that may have been infected there would have shown clinical signs by now, but the agency contacted the race administrator and has received no such reports.

VDACS is in the process of contacting the owners of three other horses that were in the same race with the infected horse, and the owners contacted so far report no indications of disease.

Wilkes advises horse owners to place their animals in isolation when returning from events and to monitor their temperature upon return. These are important disease-protection and early-detection measures, VDACS said.

Horses from the Fauquier farm where the infected animal lived did travel to two other states, and VDACS has notified the applicable state veterinarians about the matter.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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