Virus Outbreak Tracked in Florida; EHV-I Suspected

by Erin Ryder

The source of an outbreak of neurologic illness in Wellington, Fla., has been traced to a shipment of 15 show horses imported from Europe the last week of November.

The horses were housed together at a quarantine facility in New York. One of the 15 died after being shipped to California and was diagnosed with equine herpesvirus-1. Two of the five of the horses shipped to Florida have signs of EHV-1; the whereabouts of the other nine horses are unknown but federal officials are looking for the animals.

Three other horses in Florida have died in association with the outbreak. There are no reports of suspected EHV-I in Thoroughbreds.

After a horse show in Wellington--located about a half-hour from the Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach--was canceled and one of its stars euthanized due to a contagious virus, the local equestrian community has scrambled to impose voluntary quarantines and deal with mandatory stop-movement orders. Veterinarians also are vaccinating or boostering many horses against equine herpesvirus.

Dr. Scott Swerdlin, a veterinarian with the Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, said most horse owners are vaccinating their horses and keeping equine movement to a minimum. Swerdlin estimated that 4,000 horses were vaccinated in a 48-hour period.

The three horses were confirmed dead due to a viral disease strongly suspected to be neurologic EHV-1.

"State of Florida Department of Agriculture is being very aggressive and is staying on top of everything," Swerdlin said. "All the vets are being very aggressive, and the horse owners have been very cooperative and very understanding."

Because EHV-1 can spread through direct contact or through the air, the disease is a concern where groups of horses congregate. By Erin Ryder