Equine virus detected in the valley

A deadly strain of equine herpesvirus has been detected in a horse on a farm in Albemarle County

The  Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was notified that a horse had contracted equine herpesvirus-1, which is part of the equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy umbrella.

“It is what we call a ‘reportable disease,’ meaning that if a veterinarian or anyone else gets confirmation of it, they have to report it,” said Elaine Lidholm, communication director for the department.

Lidholm said this is due to the fact that equine neurological disease is “so highly contagious” and that it contains a “fairly high mortality rate.”

In a 2007 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a mortality rate of 40 percent in cases across the country.

According to the department’s website, the symptoms are “fever, difficulty urinating, depression and stumbling or weakness in the hind limbs.”

Lidholm noted that, at a certain point in time, the horses become unable to move as the virus becomes more serious.

“The horses normally get it through nose-to-nose contact, because it is conveyed most widely through nasal secretions,” she explained, adding that horses have a tendency to “rub noses together.”

Lidholm added that horses can “pick it up from residues containing the virus … on something like a bucket.”

Because of this, the department recommends “very strict bio-security” that constitutes what essentially amounts to stable-bound quarantine.

This means stabling animals so that “they cannot touch nose-to-nose,” share water buckets or anything that might be carrying the virus.

On Feb. 9, the department issued a statement on its website explaining that no other horses on the farm have shown symptoms of the disease.

Lidholm said that the department is “cautiously optimistic” that the virus will not spread outside Albemarle County.

One of the reasons for this cautious optimism is that the horse that originally contracted the virus is showing signs of a “surprising recovery.”

“Normally, by the time they are recumbent and cannot get up on their own, the prognosis is not good at all,” Lidholm said.

Lidholm said that on Monday the horse was able to get up “with assistance” and has even reportedly been galloping a little bit.

“He still has a little bit of a fever … and as of [Tuesday] he was limping in his hind quarters,” she said, “He’s getting better day-by-day.”

The horse is still not clear from the virus, and Lidholm noted that the department has a 21-day waiting once a horse stops showing signs of the virus.

The quarantine will be lifted following that 21-day period, provided there are no traces of the virus.

Another reason the department is optimistic, Lidholm said, is that the horse’s owners have taken the appropriate measures by  “monitoring the health of their animals on a daily basis.”

In addition, Lidholm added that it helps that only one horse present at the time the original horse was diagnosed has left the stable.

“[The horse] went to North Carolina,” she said, “We have contacted their state veterinarian … and I have not heard that that horse was infected.”

At the same time, Lidholm stressed that the department cannot promise that the virus will not spread. “Right now, we are feeling pretty good about it.”

Lidholm the department will continue to monitor the virus and inform the public regarding any updates.

Visit http://tinyurl.com/3zjjdw6 or on Twitter@VDAC for updates.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com