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Horse owners on alert after equine herpes outbreaks in Utah, California

The recent outbreak of EHV-1, or equine herpes, in Utah and California has horse owners, trainers and riders on alert for cases in Arkansas.

The recent outbreak of EHV-1, or equine herpes, in Utah and California has horse owners, trainers and riders on alert for cases in Arkansas.

The virus is incurable and can be fatal to horses. While not considered dangerous to humans, EHV-1 can spread to horses and other equine animals through direct contact as well as through the air, bridles and other horse equipment, tack and clothing, and hands.

"It appears this outbreak started in Utah, but so far confirmed cases are in California, Utah and Texas with reports of other affected horses in Arizona, Idaho and Washington," said Mark Russell, an extension equine instructor for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

"Arkansans should be aware of this in case they travel to or accept horses from these states where any affected horses have been stabled."

According to Reuters, all but one of the 33 confirmed cases involve horses that attended a National Cutting Horse championship competition held in Ogden, Utah, from April 29 to May 8, an event that health officials have identified as the source of the outbreak. There were 308 horses at the Utah event, and another 689 were exposed by secondary contact or proximity, according to USDA. Seven of the infected horses have died or were euthanized, according to USDA.

EHV-1 can cause abortion, respiratory and neurologic disease and is more likely to be transmitted by older horses that may not show any signs of infection.  Some of the symptoms of equine herpes are fever, runny nose, fatigue, stumbling and weakness in the hind limbs.  The virus also tends to occur when horses are stressed.  Some horses may respond favorably to anti-viral drugs, others don’t.

Riders and handlers should thoroughly wash their clothing and gear in hot water and disinfectant after coming in contact with horses. Horses exposed to large equine gatherings like the one in Utah should be isolated and kept under observation.

"The USDA also is putting together a database of the infected horses and other equine animals to help state health officials as they contain and eliminate this outbreak," Russell said.  "The best thing for horse owners, trainers and riders to do is get educated about equine herpes, talk to their veterinarians, keep informed of the outbreak from news reports and stay calm."

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