All quarantines in effect for horse farms and clinics due to the recent Equine Herpes Virus outbreak have been lifted, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, signaling the end of the immediate threat to Florida.
“We released the last facility Saturday afternoon. We feel that we reached containment in the areas that were affected in Martin, Marion and Palm Beach counties,” said Mark Fagan, spokesman from the Department of Agriculture.
In all, 13 cases of the virus were confirmed with six horses euthanized due to the illness. The state quarantined 10 properties including Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown. Payson Park has more than 500 Thoroughbred race horses stabled on its property. Last week, the state lifted the quarantine on most of the facility leaving it in place for only two barns. Only one horse tested positive for the illness there and has since recovered.
Most of the properties quarantined were in and around Wellington, an equestrian community in Palm Beach County. The outbreak was traced back to a horse that was imported from Europe and arrived in Wellington in late November.
In Ocala a Thoroughbred filly that came in contact with one of the infected Wellington horses, was sent to Tuxedo Farms to be boarded. As soon as the horse got off the van, farm owner Jerry Paradise noticed the animal was ill and immediately placed it in isolation. That move is believed to have stopped the virus from spreading further in Ocala, according to state officials.
“Our concern from the onset was that we were getting a very high percentage of deaths at the beginning. We were really worried about the virulence, but because we got down there pretty quickly and everyone did a great job in reporting, isolating and not moving horses around, that I think we really did a good job of stopping it in its track,” said Dr. Michael Short, equine programs manager at the Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Maureen Long, an associate professor of large animal sciences at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, believes the biosecurity measure put into place after the outbreak were essential to containing the illness.
“Most of it is common sense," she said. "Don’t share bits, don’t share water buckets or sources. In addition people working with horses need to be aware they can carry diseases from horse to horse. Hand washing, cleaning boots between stalls and barns is very important,” Long said. “It's clear that once these sites with disease implemented basic biosecurity there was good containment to initial sites. The horsemen should be commended for their rapid response.”
Long said that just because the outbreak may be over, that should not mean the end of those measures.
“Basic biosecurity measures should be part of everyday management. Owners and trainers should keep health, vaccine, and shipping records. Venues should implement guidelines and keep better records,” she said. “I think the race tracks in Florida, especially Calder Race Course, are a real model for what other venues in Florida should implement.”
Two of the infected horses were racing Thoroughbreds. Because of quick measures taken by the facilities, no other horses were infected and both horses recovered.