UC Davis Equine Researchers Tackling Coronavirus

Research can help vets better diagnose and treat the disease and horse owners manage or even prevent outbreaks.

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While there is still much to be known about equine coronavirus (ECoV), researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), are discovering many commonalities among horses infected with the disease and are hopeful to someday find the root cause. Their research is helping veterinarians better diagnose and treat the disease, as well as helping horse owners manage or even prevent outbreaks.

The origin of ECoV still remains a mystery—some suspect it could have developed from bovine coronavirus and spread across species. What is known about the spread of ECoV among horses is that respiratory shedding of the disease is unlikely. The disease is mostly spread feco-orally, said Nicola Pusterla, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, meaning it can be passed from horse-to-horse via exposure to contaminated feces.

Pusterla recently gathered all of the clinical equine veterinarians at UC Davis to update them on the disease, as recent outbreaks have brought patients to the hospital. His presentation covered a research project into the disease and reviewed several case studies to better prepare the clinicians for ECoV cases that might arrive at their Large Animal Clinic. The UC Davis veterinary hospital is prepared to diagnose and treat ECoV cases, with its multiple board-certified equine infectious disease specialists and technical staff experienced with treating the disease. The facilities include an isolation unit to treat the horses without infecting other hospitalized animals, as well as an on-site laboratory to perform diagnostic tests to confirm the disease and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

The school’s research showed that most horses with ECoV will present as anorexic (98%) and lethargic (88%), with an elevated rectal temperature (≥101.5°F; 81%). Less common signs can include diarrhea (23%), colic (16%), and neurologic deficits (4%) such as aimless wondering, headpressing, recumbency (the inability to rise unassisted), or seizures. However, veterinarians should not assume that symptomatic horses have ECoV and asymptomatic horses do not—PCR testing throughout this research confirmed that 10-20% of asymptomatic horses involved in outbreaks have detectable ECoV in their feces

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