Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) is a highly infectious DNA virus found all over the world. Currently, there is an outbreak of the neurological form of EHV-1 in Europe, which originated in Spain. This has resulted in outbreaks in at least three other European countries and the cancellation of FEI competitions through the month of March.
EHV-1 is contagious and spread by direct horse-to-horse contact via the respiratory tract through nasal secretions or indirectly through surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus.
In Wellington, Florida, we currently have no reported cases of affected horses. Our location in the Winter Equestrian Capital of the World poses its own risk factors with large numbers of horses in close quarters and under the stresses of competition and travel. This heightens our shared responsibility to take specific measures that will help keep each horse safe from the virus. We can work towards this by implementing two strategies: biosecurity and vaccination protocols.
1. Biosecurity – Implementing thorough hygiene and biosecurity protocols is important at all times, even when an outbreak has not occurred. Biosecurity and preventing the spread of disease is fresh in our minds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and owners must now implement specific protocols at their barns for the safety of their horses. Some biosecurity steps to prevent the spread of EHV-1 include:
Limit direct contact of your horse with others whenever possible – think equine “social distancing.” Do not use communal water buckets and avoid mixing of horses wherever possible.
Take your horse’s temperature twice daily and report any horse with a temperature above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit to your veterinarian immediately.
Pay close attention for signs of respiratory or neurological disease. Clinical signs of neurologic disease may include incoordination, hind limb weakness, lethargy, head tilt, inability to get up after laying down, and inability to maintain balance. Clinical signs of respiratory disease often include discharge from the nostrils or eyes or swelling in the throatlatch area.
Do not share buckets, halters, leads, bridles, or other tack between horses to prevent possible cross contamination. Clearly label your equipment, and if you must share, make sure to scrub and thoroughly clean equipment with detergent before using with another horse.
Prevent people in your barn from potentially transferring the virus by washing your hands between handling different horses. Bring a change of clothes and shoes incase a horse is suspected of being infected.
If you suspect your horse may be infected or has a high temperature, immediately isolate them from the other horses at your barn and contact your veterinarian. Ideally, a potentially sick horse should be moved into a separate building or paddock, or to an isolation facility. Palm Beach Equine Clinic is equipped with a USDA-approved quarantine center and is readily available to initiate the laboratory diagnostics required for diagnosing EHV-1.
2. Vaccinate – Making sure your horse is up to date on all their vaccines will help strengthen their immune system against potential viruses. There are vaccines available to protect against the respiratory disease and abortion-causing EHV (Rhinopneumonitis vaccine), however, there is no vaccine available for protection against the neurologic form. Some EHV vaccines can reduce nasal shedding of the disease, therefore potentially reducing transmission. Please contact your veterinarian for any questions regarding vaccinating your horse.
What To Do Next
If you have recently imported a horse or are planning for the arrival of a horse from any country in mainland Europe, please take extra precaution by calling your veterinarian. In addition to implementing biosecurity measures in the barn, Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians recommend that your imported horse receive a nasal swab and blood sample to detect the virus by PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which will identify the DNA of the virus.
EHV is a normally occurring virus in the equine population, but by following vaccination and biosecurity protocols, outbreaks can be minimized and contained. Early identification and reporting of the virus is key to tracing and preventing further spread. If you have any questions or concerns about your horse horse’s health, please contact Palm Beach Equine Clinic at 561-793-1599 to speak with a veterinarian.
United States Department of Agriculture Information on Equine Herpesvirus
American Association of Equine Practitioners FAQ on Equine Herpesvirus
United States Equestrian Federation Biosecurity Measures for Horses at Home and at Competitions