An outbreak threat of the equine herpes virus among horses in Arizona has put stables on lockdown, cancelled shows and left owners nervously waiting out the next three weeks.
The airborne virus — which has no vaccine or cure — is believed to have been spread during a horse competition in Ogden, Utah, from April 30 to May 8. Twenty-one horses from Arizona attended the event, and animal health officials in at least five other states have reported suspected cases of infection.
“Horses are dying from it, and it is a pretty terrible death if they are not put down,” said Jennie Cohagen, who boards her two horses at Papago Stables in Tempe, where she is a part-time employee. “They can treat the symptoms, but there is very little else they can do for it right now.”
The virus poses no threat to humans.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture, which regulates equine activity in the state, has confirmed one horse death.
Acting state veterinarian John Hunt said that, as of Thursday, lab-diagnostic information was still being compiled to determine exposure beyond the 21 horses at the Odgen event.
Hunt recommends isolation and monitoring continue for 28 days after symptoms of the disease — including high fever, nasal discharge or lethargy — are noticed.
“Our focus has been to work with owners and veterinarians that had horses at that Ogden event to really isolate their horses and stop all movement of them,” Hunt said. “We’ve tried to help in any way we can with the security and monitoring of those horses.”
Joey Ogburn, founder of the Luv Shack Ranch horse rescue shelter in Cave Creek, said the virus can spread for up to 40 feet after an infected horse sneezes. It can also be carried on feed, water buckets and farrier’s equipment, so stables are stressing constant cleaning and sterilization among employees and visitors.
The effects range from deterioration of a horse’s spine and brain, which prevents it from being mounted, to death.
“I don’t think the vets and researchers really know how long it can affect a horse,” Ogburn said. “There are really a lot of unknowns with it. When it attacks a horse’s neurological system, there is no turning back.”
The Chandler Vaqueros Saddle Club cancelled its final horse show of the season due to the outbreak threat. In Santa Cruz County, a 75-year-old show was cancelled, as was a rodeo last weekend in Marana.
Queen Creek’s Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre is closed through June 2.
At Papago Stables, Cohagen said: “We’re hearing (to stay in lockdown) at least until mid-June. We have new boarders that want to come in, but we have to tell them they have to wait until then. That hurts business.”
Ogburn said that she is unable to admit horses to her shelter, or place them in foster homes.
“Nobody wants a new horse on their property,” Ogburn said. “That affects my efforts to save horses.”
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