Horse owners should be aware of serious virus

Published on July 21, 2014

A virus that caused three horses in Pictou County to be euthanized recently is something people should be aware of but not panic over, says New Glasgow Vet Clinic’s Dr. Kathryn Sykes.

The virus is Equine Herpes Virus Type 1 and so far has been only found on one location in the county.

“Most horse people do have some level of awareness,” Sykes said. “It’s something that every few years we see a few cases of it.”

She said the last outbreak she can recall happened in Truro about five years ago.

“It can be quite devastating if it’s not caught early and controlled,” she said. “It’s more of a risk in high traffic barns and stuff like that where horses are coming and going and mixing and under stress.”

There are two types of the disease. One is respiratory and Evans equates it to an equine cold. But the virus can also have a neuropathogenic form, which is the more serious type.

She said the virus is actually quite common, but is usually latent.

“It’s estimated that 66 per cent of the horse population is latently infected,” she said.

The virus is typically spread by nose-to-nose contact or sharing air space, Sykes said.

“It’s spread through respiratory secretions. It’s usually from horse to horse.”

It can, however also be transmitted through people and equipment.

She said the horse has to be actively shedding for it to be spread.

One of the first signs that a horse is infected is a high fever. Horse owners might notice their horse going off their feed or acting lethargic. Usually within 48 hours of the fever – but as long as a couple of weeks after the fever spike – other symptoms will show up if they’re going to.

Neurological symptoms typically show themselves with the horse having weakness in the hind end and going down.

“All four limbs are affected but their hind end is always the worst,” she said.

After that, they may lose the ability to void their bladder.

There is a vaccine for the virus and vaccination has been shown to decrease the severity and duration of viral shedding.

“If you do have an outbreak if the horses are vaccinated, it’s less likely to spread like wildfire through the herd,” Sykes said

If people do suspect that their horse may have this disease, they should contact their veterinarian.