Florida Lifts All Equine Herpesvirus Quarantines

Edited press release

All quarantines in effect for horse farms and clinics due to the recent equine herpesvirus outbreak have been lifted, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs said.

“We released the last facility (Jan. 20),” department spokesman Mark Fagan said. “We feel that we reached containment in the areas that were affected in Martin, Marion, and Palm Beach counties.”

In all, 13 confirmed 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 horses stabled on its property. Earlier, the state lifted the quarantine on most of the facility but left t in place for 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,” said Dr. Michael Short, equine programs manager for the Department of Agriculture. “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.”

Dr. Maureen Long, an associate professor of large animal sciences at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, believes the biosecurity measures put into place after the outbreak were essential to containing the illness.

“I think some of the basic biosecurity measures have been overdue,” Long said. “Most of it is common sense: 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. 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.”

Two of the infected horses were racing Thoroughbreds. Because of quick measures taken by racetracks and others, no other horses were infected and both horses recovered.

“I’d really like to thank Charles Bronson, the commissioner of agriculture, as well as the state veterinary staff including Dr. Thomas Holt, Dr. Bill Jeter, Dr. Short, and everyone for their hard work in containing this outbreak,” said Richard Hancock, executive vice president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. “Also those horse farm owners who kept the quarantines helped keep this virus from spreading further as did the help from the University of Florida, including Dr. Eleanor Green, chief of staff at the large animal hospital, and Dr. Long. Their efforts helped keep this from being a large scale tragedy.”