The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Miami Animal Import Center, in Florida, temporarily stopped accepting new equine imports Saturday after a suspected salmonellosis outbreak began.

Salmonellosis is spread through horse-to-horse contact, shared water buckets, and contaminated feed. Clinical signs in horses can include lameness, fever, severe diarrhea, and dehydration.

Brian McCluskey, DVM, MS, PhD, Dip. ACVPM, associate deputy administrator for APHIS veterinary services field operations, said officials began suspecting the outbreak Jan.16 when five horses under quarantine at the center exhibited diarrhea, fever and lameness. The temporary closure began Jan. 19.

“Originally, we had six horses that presented with symptoms and timing that led us to believe that it was Salmonella,” McCluskey said. “One (of those) horses was lame but it was (due to) a transport injury, and that horse was not ill.”

The other five horses were transported to a private veterinary facility where three were euthanized, McCluskey said. Of the two surviving horses, one is recovering well and other’s condition is being closely monitored.

Immediately after the outbreak began samples were collected by a veterinarian and an animal health technician and sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories for testing. Before reopening, the facility will undergo a complete cleaning and disinfection with disinfection targeted to any causative disease agent identified or suspected.

“After the investigation, they will help recommend new cleaning and disinfecting measures,” McCluskey said.

In a statement, APHIS said import center employees are reaching out to horse brokers who have upcoming reservations at the facility to notify them of the temporary closure. Horses already at the facility will remain at the import center to complete the quarantine process and will be released to their brokers as scheduled unless the brokers seek alternate arrangements, the statement said.

Horses slated to ship to Miami during the closure can be shipped to privately operated facilities in the area or their arrival may be rescheduled, McCluskey said.

The APHIS statement said the import center has approximately 95 individual horse stalls available for quarantine purposes.

“In addition to horse facilities, the import center also has a separate quarantine area for birds,” the statement said. “APHIS veterinarians are monitoring all birds under quarantine and have not seen any signs of illness. The avian facility will remain open and intake of new birds will continue as scheduled.”

In the meantime, McCluskey said import center operations are unaffected by the current partial government shutdown because its services are considered critical. “Also, our services are fee-based and our employees are (considered) exempt employees who have been working with pay,” he said.