Veterinarian: Take Precautions to Protect Horses from EHM

Recent EHM cases after a barrel racing event in Nebraska should serve as a reminder that good biosecurity practices can help prevent illnesses, says a Kansas State University veterinarian.
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It's springtime and for many horse enthusiasts, that means heading out to horse shows and rodeos. But recent cases of equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) after a barrel racing event in Nebraska should serve as a reminder that good biosecurity practices can help prevent illnesses, says a Kansas State University (K-State) veterinarian.

Elizabeth Davis, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor of clinical sciences in K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine referred to two cases of EHM that were diagnosed after a large barrel racing event that took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, on April 10-13. One of the horses, from a farm in northeast Kansas, became ill after its return from the competition, the Kansas Department of Agriculture said. The horse was euthanized and samples tested by the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Equine Diagnostics Services in Lexington, Kentucky, confirmed EHM. Another confirmed case was a horse from Wisconsin that also was present at the Nebraska event.

"EHM can be highly contagious," said Davis of the neurologic disease associated with equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) infections. "If we're not careful, this virus can spread and can be life-threatening."

The virus that causes EHM is EHV-1, which is common and can be present in a horse for years, causing a minor illness when first contracted. Most cases never develop into EHM. Most commonly EHV-1 causes mild to moderate respiratory disease, abortion in pregnant broodmares, and illness in young foals. Only rarely EHV-1 actually causes EHM. In some cases and especially in times of stress, however, the virus can be reactivated and shed to other horses. Stressful situations such as strenuous exercise, long-distance transport, or weaning can be the trigger for viral shedding

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