Equine Influenza at World Equestrian Center

Officials from the World Equestrian Center (WEC) in Wilmington, Ohio, said Feb. 15 that six more horses had tested positive for equine influenza, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to nine.

The nine horses are currently in isolation at the WEC veterinary clinic in various stages of recovery. The facility is currently in Week 8 of its Winter Series of the Midwest indoor horse show circuit, which hosts up to 600 stalls each week from December until April.

Holly Helbig, DVM, WEC show veterinarian, working in conjunction with show manager Brandon Saxton, have implemented a three-phase process for managing the affected horses. Any horse that presents with clinical signs of disease is moved to a separate barn on the property and tested for the virus. Positive cases are then moved to isolation, located at the onsite veterinary clinic. Helbig closely monitors and cares for horses in isolation round-the-clock. Once the affected horses stop showing clinical signs, they will be moved to a “step-down” isolation area where they will be retested; from there, horses with a negative swab will be released.

“We are setting a higher standard to disease prevention at horse shows and following through with our set USEF (United States Equestrian Federation) isolation protocol,” said Helbig. “World Equestrian Center’s proactive isolation plan is allowing us to stay out in front of the virus and manage it for positive outcomes. Our open communication with exhibitors is helping to remove any stigma associated with the illness. It encourages exhibitors to work with us—adhering to biosecurity protocol and reporting any symptoms immediately, which will help with containment.”

Roby Roberts, WEC owner, added, “Equine influenza is not a reportable illness, but we choose to be transparent in communicating the situation here in Ohio to help exhibitors make informed decisions about their animals. Although there is no mandatory isolation with equine influenza, our operating procedures and elevated biosecurity measures are aimed at ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the horses and ponies that show at our facility.”

Individuals with questions or concerns are asked to contact horse show manager Brandon Saxton at 216/554-2049 or Helbig at 330/807-2643.

In the meantime, the WEC recommends horse owners and caregivers observe biosecurity recommendations and adhere to vaccination schedules as recommended by their veterinarians.

Equine Influenza at World Equestrian Center

Influenza 101

Equine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that affects horses, ponies, and other equids, such as donkeys, mules, and zebras. The virus that causes it is spread via saliva and respiratory secretions from infected horses. Horses are commonly exposed via horse-to-horse contact; humans that pick up the virus on their hands, shoes, or clothes; tack, buckets, or other equipment; and aerosol transmission from coughing and sneezing.

Clinical signs of equine influenza infection can include a high fever (up to 106°F); a dry, hacking cough; depression; weakness; anorexia; serous (watery) nasal discharge; and slightly enlarged lymph nodes. Consider monitoring your horse’s health at shows by taking his temperature daily, which can help you pick up on signs of infection early and take appropriate measures to reduce disease spread.

Vaccination is an important and inexpensive way to protect your horse. US Equestrian requires proof that horses have had an equine influenza vaccination within the six months prior to attending organization-sanctioned competitions or events. Your veterinarian can help you determine what other vaccines your horse might benefit from.

In addition to vaccination, following strict biosecurity protocols can help reduce your horse’s chance of developing disease. Such measures include quarantining new equine arrivals at barns, disinfecting buckets and equipment, and preventing nose-to-nose contact between horses.