Horse virus outbreak raising concerns

Sharna Johnson

Eastern New Mexico horse owners are being advised to keep their animals home as concerns grow over an outbreak of a deadly horse virus.

While there were no confirmed New Mexico cases of the highly contagious Equine Herpes Virus-1 as of Wednesday, the state livestock board said there are two suspected cases in Hobbs and Albuquerque.

So far, at least 17 horses in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, California, Washington and Canada have been infected with EHV-1, and at least three have died.

The disease poses no threat to people but is easily spread among horses, alpacas and llamas because it can be airborne and transmitted by touch or by sharing feed, brushes, bits and other equipment.

Veterinarian Dr. David Orton, who works in Curry, Roosevelt and De Baca counties, said he has examined three horses that were suspected of the disease but none had it.

Orton said rumors and fear is flying through horse communities, but the disease is not a new one and not without remedy.

“This is not a new disease, it’s just new to us. This is the first outbreak west of the Mississippi. It’s just new and people are afraid,” he said.

Orton said the virus has been present on the east coast for years.

Not “100 percent fatal,” Orton said horses can be treated and, with supportive care, can survive EHV-1.

The best thing horse owners can do is follow the recommendations of state veterinarians and stay home with their animals for the next 10 days, he said.

“I think as long as they’re not transporting (their horses), they’re OK. I’ve talked to a lot of people that were going to do things and they opted not to,” he said.

“If everyone would just play it close to the vest for a little while, this storm will burn itself out.”

So far, Clovis equestrian events are moving forward unchanged, according to Kevin Jolley, manager of the Curry County Events Center.

He said there has been no talk of interruptions to a WRCA Ranch Rodeo scheduled for May 28 and 29 at the events center.

“I really haven’t been told anything by vets or any promoters. Everything’s still go at this time,” Jolley said.

Jolley said as equestrian events go, this time of year is not as bad as it would be if the virus were to strike in the middle of the summer when competitions are at their peak.

The infected horses were among roughly 400 that attended the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah, earlier this month.

Officials in several states are quarantining infected animals and asking owners of other horses that were at the event to closely monitor the animals for symptoms. Organizers also are canceling horse shows and classes in Texas, Utah and elsewhere in an effort to stem the disease’s spread.

Abby Yigzaw, with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the agency is assisting state veterinarians in compiling numbers and other data about the sick animals. But she said the agency didn’t have any immediate numbers on how many horses were infected.

Infected animals usually get sick between two and 14 days after they are exposed to the virus. Symptoms include fever, sneezing, staggering and partial paralysis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.