Nebraska Horses Positive for Both EI and EHV-4

According to a report by their attending veterinarian, two of three horses that tested positive for equine influenza (EI) in Douglas County, Nebraska, also tested positive for equine herpesvirus-4 (EHV-4).

The first horse, a 2-year-old Quarter Horse gelding with unknown vaccination status, started experiencing clinical signs on March 8. Signs included anorexia, coughing, fever, and nasal discharge. The horse was confirmed positive for both EI and EHV-4 on March 13 and is reported as recovering. Eleven additional horses are suspected positive for equine influenza, and 50 horses were exposed.

Two additional Douglas County horses subsequently tested positive for equine influenza: an unvaccinated 6-year-old Mustang mare, which also tested positive for EHV-4, and a 9-year-old Quarter Horse gelding. Both confirmed cases were reported as unvaccinated. They presented with coughing, fever, and nasal discharge (the Quarter Horse gelding on March 6) and are reported as recovering. In this outbreak, three additional horses were suspected positive and eight were exposed.

All exposed horses are under voluntary quarantine.

About Equine Influenza

Equine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease that infects 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; aerosol transmission from coughing and sneezing; and contact with human’s contaminated hands, shoes, or clothes or contaminated tack, buckets, or other equipment.

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

About EHV

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 equine herpesvirus myeloencephalitis (EHM, the neurologic form).

​In many horses, the first or only sign of EHV infection is fever, which can go undetected. In addition to fever, other common signs of EHV 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.

Horses with EHM 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 prevent disease spread.