A Word on EHV-1
Last week, a farm very close to me in Bucks County, PA experienced an outbreak of Equine Herpes Virus - otherwise known as EHV-1. Three horses have died of the disease so far, and the farm is currently under a strict quarantine and is working with the state department of agriculture and local vets to keep the virus from spreading. The horse who first showed symptoms was showing in New Jersey a couple weeks prior, and vets are working to trace the origin of the first outbreak.
Our farm, and most farms in the area, are on lockdown for at least 2 weeks to prevent any new cases.
This is a pretty scary thing - I can tell you from personal experience that EHV-1 is no joke. While the more common strain of the virus often presents as a respiratory infection and is not always fatal, there is a mutation of the virus that attacks the nervous system with severe neurological symptoms, and is often deadly.
This mutated strain is what was confirmed in the local barn.
In college, I worked at a barn that was affected by a case of neurological EHV-1, and got the unique life experience of having participated in a state-sanctioned quarantine. While I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, having to deal with the virus firsthand gave me invaluable knowledge about quarantine and biosecurity procedures. I'd like to take some time to share some important knowledge and protocols with you in case EHV-1 ever rears its ugly head in your area!
KEEP YOUR HORSES HOME!
In the event that a contagious disease like EHV-1 strikes in your area, please, please, PLEASE keep your horses home! EHV-1 is easy to spread, either by direct contact between horses or via contaminated human hands, equipment, or surfaces. Showing, clinics, and lessons at other facilities are a no-no for at least the 14-day incubation period - during that time, any new cases that are going to erupt will likely show themselves. Do not allow horses to enter or leave your property for at least 2 weeks.
Sanitation And Isolation Are Key
If you are dealing with EHV-1 at your home barn, or must travel between barns for whatever reason, biosecurity is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus. Clean, wash, and disinfect yourself, your clothing, your equipment, and your boots between barns. When I was working in a barn under quarantine, I would strip down and shower right after each shift, placing my clothes immediately into a trash bag and putting them directly into the washing machine to be washed in hot water. I had separate boots for each barn I went to, and disinfected my footwear in bleach upon entering and exiting the quarantine facility. Bleach does a great job of inactivating the virus, as does heat.
Horses each had separate muck buckets and forks, thermometers, and feed and water buckets. Buckets were bleached twice a day, and disposable gloves were used for handling horses. Stalls and other surfaces were disinfected frequently with bleach. Infected horses should be isolated as much as possible, and contact between horses should be prevented at all costs. Hanging plastic sheets between stall bars are great for that!
Monitor Temperatures Carefully
The first sign of EHV-1 is often a fever, so if this disease is present in your area, take temperatures at your farm daily - more than once a day if possible. If your horse's temperature is higher than normal, call your vet immediately!
Keep Up-To-Date on Vaccinations
While there is no vaccine for the neurological strain of EHV-1, there IS a vaccine for the 'normal' strain of the virus - and your horse most likely receives this vaccine in the form of a "Flu/Rhino" shot each year. Vets recommend that horses receive this vaccine every 3-6 months, and the less of the EHV virus that is out there, the less of a chance there is of it mutating into the deadly neurological strain.
For the most accurate and recent information on disease outbreaks in your area, visit the Equine Disease Communication Center site: http://www.equinediseasecc.org/outbreaks.aspx . And for more detailed information on EHV-1 and how to prevent and control outbreaks, you can check out the AAEP: http://www.aaep.org/info/equine-herpesvirus-resources .
Stay safe, everyone!