The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) reported June 13 that a horse from Island County, Washington, has tested positive for equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1).
The EDCC said the Washington State Department of Agriculture indicated the 18-year-old Quarter Horse gelding developed clinical signs—including a sore back, difficulty standing, and bladder atony (urine retention or dribbling)—on June 7. He tested positive for both EHV-1 wild-type and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (or EPM) on June 11, the EDCC said. The horse had been vaccinated and is recovering.
The EDCC said the affected gelding’s home farm—along with 25 other horses residing there—have been quarantined.
Herpesvirus is highly contagious among horses and can cause a variety of ailments in equids, including rhinopneumonitis (a respiratory disease usually found in young horses), abortion in broodmares, and EHM. In many horses, the first or only sign of EHV-1 infection is fever, which can go undetected.
In addition to fever, other common signs of EHV-1 infection in young horses include cough, decreased appetite, depression, and a nasal discharge. Pregnant mares typically show no signs of infection before they abort, and abortions usually occur late in gestation (around eight months), but can be earlier. Abortions can occur anywhere from two weeks to several months following infection with EHV-1.
Horses with the neurologic form usually have a fever at the onset of the disease and might show signs of a respiratory infection. A few days later, neurologic signs such as ataxia (incoordination), weakness or paralysis of the fore- and hind limbs, urine retention and dribbling, loss of tail tone, and recumbency (inability to rise) develop.
Herpesvirus is easily spread by nose-to-nose or close contact with an infectious horse; sharing contaminated equipment including bits, buckets, and towels; or clothing, hands, or equipment of people who have recently had contact with an infectious horse. Routine biosecurity measures, including hygiene and basic cleaning and disinfection practices, should be in place at all times to help present disease spread.
Current EHV-1 vaccines might reduce viral shedding but are not protective against the neurologic form of the disease. Implementing routine biosecurity practices is the best way to minimize viral spread, and the best method of disease control is disease prevention.