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Equine herpesvirus suspected at Fair Hill barn

A suspected case of equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) has been reported at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, resulting in the start of quarantine measures, though veterinarian Dr. Kathy Anderson is optimistic the incident is isolated and contained.

The horse has been transferred to a separate barn on the property, where it is the only horse in residence, and the remainder of the horses from the original barn have been identified and kept isolated from other horses and barns at the training center.  No other horses have shown signs of the disease. The exposed horses can utilize special training hours with no contact with the starting gate, personnel or equipment, and with restricted exit/entry to that barn.

Though it does not affect humans, the disease is highly contagious among horses and can pass through the air and through objects that have been in contact with infected horses. Infection results in respiratory issues, fever and can lead to other more serious issues.

Anderson said Fair Hill has worked closely with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in testing and prevention measures. Recommendations are for the unexposed horses at the training center to continue normal training and movement.

Anderson spent much of Thursday discussing protocol and opinions with the region’s racetracks and state veterinarians. Thus far,  Fair Hill-based horses from other barns are allowed to race at some tracks. Penn National accepted Fair Hill runners Thursday night, but canceled its card a half-hour before the first race due to a frozen track. Laurel Park did not allow Fair Hill horses to run Thursday. Fair Hill-based Graham Motion has a horse entered at Aqueduct Friday and expects to be allowed to run.

“Fair Hill has handled it really well,” Motion said. “Maryland would not let me run (Thursday) but I hope once they realize how controlled it is they will loosen that restriction and let us run. New York is allowing us to run after hearing the particulars. The horse is isolated, the other horses in that barn are isolated. Everything is very separate here.”

Anderson and Motion both paid credit to the layout of Fair Hill in helping minimize the risk. The training center’s 17 barns and racetracks are spread over 300 acres with each barn its own entity with far more space than on a typical racetrack backstretch.

“It’s a unique environment and that helps us,” said Anderson. “The barns are separated naturally and horses are not that close to each other going to and from the track. We’ve gone through the channels, done what we are supposed to do. The disease process is ordinarily five to seven days and we’re nine days out now.”

EHV-1 cases at racetracks (including Parx Racing in December and other tracks in the past) have resulted in similar quarantine rules, but unexposed horses have been allowed to train and race on the property with restrictions placed on arrivals and departures. All Fair Hill horses ship to racetracks to compete, involving various racing jurisdictions in the process and complicating matters. In 2006, a case at Fair Hill resulted in horses from other barns being allowed to run (with clean health reports) at area racetracks. See article. Outbreaks at racetracks normally cause the track's stable area (and therefore races) to be closed to outside horses.

The horse in question in the current case arrived at Fair Hill in mid-December. Recently, it exhibited an elevated temperature, colic symptoms and moderate neurologic signs. Blood and other tests were negative, but a subsequent nasal swab sample showed a “weak positive” for EHV-1 with no evidence of the neuropathogenic strain mutation.

Anderson said less than 25 percent of horses testing positive for the virus do not have that strain. The horse was moved to a separate barn Jan. 1 and is completely isolated. It will stay isolated for at least 21 days based on the results of further testing. Anderson said there is no evidence that additional restrictions are needed. The horse in question, and the others from that barn, will complete the isolation period (which officially started Jan. 2) and will be monitored for further signs of illness.

 

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