West Virginia Tracks Lift Embargo on Horses from Ohio Farm

A horse that had displayed clinical signs of equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) was negative for the virus according to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the disease. This resulted in the lifting of an embargo imposed by the West Virginia Racing Commission on the Ohio farm where the horse was kept.

Officials at Mountaineer Park and Charles Town Races released a statement Wednesday (May 17) that the embargo was lifted on horses from Lonnie Stokes' farm near Carrollton, Ohio, after blood drawn from an 8-year-old horse, Johnny One Note, came back negative for EHV-1 in a second group of tests.

Johnny One Note raced at Mountaineer Park March 31 and developed clinical signs consistent with neurologic EHV-1 April 13 at Stokes' farm. His first group of EHV-1 tests was suggestive of the virus, which triggered the embargo. The PCR test cleared the horse and all Stokes' horses will be permitted back on the grounds of the West Virginia tracks May 18.

Clinical signs of EHV-1 commonly include fever and an upper respiratory infection, according to veterinarians. They also can include lethargy, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and cough. In severe cases of the neurologic form of EHV-1, horses can suffer a loss of coordination and an inability to stand.

According to Joseph Starcher, state veterinarian for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Johnny One Note still exhibited neurologic signs as of last Friday (May 12). His owners might choose to euthanatize and submit the horse to the Ohio State Department of Agriculture's Diagnostic Laboratory in Reynoldsburg for necropsy.

Although West Nile virus and wobbler syndrome could have been possible explanations for Johnny One Note's neurologic signs, Starcher said neither fit the time frame of the horse's illness.

"The lab will probably conduct tests and have results of the illness in the next week," he said.

Starcher said there was another scare last week when a horse that had won at Mountaineer showed unusual signs of incoordination in his stall one morning.

"The horse had been moved from the track to a training facility about two miles away," said Starcher. "Dr. John Day (racetrack practitioner and veterinarian for the West Virginia Racing Commission) and I went out there and examined the horse--he had a knot on his left shoulder in front of the withers caused by who knows what, but it was quite large.

"He never had any fever, and it would've been very unusual for him to win the race and then be sick--it's probably not herpesvirus. It turns out the horse had trouble in the starting gate and had thrashed around, probably injuring himself."

Ohio veterinarian Jimmy Boucher, who practices frequently at Mountaineer sent blood samples from the gelding--Jack Allen's 5-year-old, Affirmed Fever--to a Tennessee laboratory for testing. According to Starcher, the results came back showing a low titer for EHV-1. The horse had been vaccinated for the disease, so Starcher said that finding was not surprising.

Additional testing results on Affirmed Fever are pending, but Boucher said he doubts they will come back positive since the horse appears to be normal. None of Allen's other horses are showing signs of illness.

Starcher said that as of Wednesday afternoon, he is not aware of any horses that are currently showing signs of EHV-1 in West Virginia.