Other States Act to Combat Spread of Virus

by Sandra McKee
As surrounding states took steps to protect their racetracks from Maryland horses that could be carriers of the equine herpesvirus, Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary Georganne Hale was looking for positives anywhere she could find them.

"This thing has everyone scared," Hale said Jan. 10 after a morning meeting at which state officials confirmed preliminary results of blood tests on News Reporter, the 5-year-old gelding euthanized Jan. 2 at Pimlico Race Course, showed he was infected by the virus. "But it looks like we have it confined, that we've jumped on it in time. And, not to be selfish, but if you're looking for a silver lining, our horses not being able to ship out of town will help me" put together larger fields at Laurel Park.

Fear of a spread of the virus led other states to take action in the tightly knit Mid-Atlantic region, where horses regularly cross state lines to race.

Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania will not accept entries from Pimlico-based horses, but it will allow its horse population to race at Laurel as long as those horses are stabled in private barns and not the usual receiving barn, where they might come in contact with Pimlico-based horses.

Pennsylvania's Penn National Race Course, which shut down for a week to overhaul its racing surface, will not allow its horses to ship to Maryland. If they do, those horses have to remain in Maryland until the virus threat ends.

New York tracks will allow entries from Pimlico, but they have to have a health certificate signed by a veterinarian within a three-day period of racing. Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia will not accept any entries from Maryland trainers, and the track has advised horsemen on its grounds to remove any horse stabled there that raced in Maryland after Dec. 15.

Hale said the restrictions have the potential to impact 227 trainers--70 of them at Pimlico--and up to 1,100 horses stabled at Pimlico, the Bowie Training Center, and Laurel Park. There are 475 horses at Pimlico outside the infected barn.

In Barn 5, where the outbreak occurred, 40 horses are currently under a Maryland Department of Agriculture "Hold Order" that allows them to work out but not to come in contact with any other horses at the track.

Maryland State Veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus said he expects the final results of blood tests made on all the infected horses by Jan. 13. The six other horses that are showing signs of infection and that have been moved to the track's detention barn are in various stages of a disease also suspected of being equine herpesvirus. All of them have high temperatures and four of them are exhibiting moderate to severe neurological problems that can be seen when the horses attempt to walk.

"With the results from the (euthanized) horse, the best working hypothesis, with good evidence--the animal, the place, and time--is that (equine herpesvirus) was responsible," Hohenhaus said. "The timing is right for the others to get sick. The first horse is the index case."

Hohenhaus said he doesn't believe the outbreak has played out completely, but described the severity of Maryland's outbreak as being in the middle range--"not as severe as it could be."

An outbreak in Maryland last year at the Columbia Horse Park claimed three horses in the first week.

"It would not be surprising if some (of these horses) fully recover, some don't make it, or some develop a chronic disability, meaning their racing days are over," Hohenhaus said.

The vet also said he believes it will be February before the virus has run its course.

"We need Barn 5 to be free of evidence of disease for 21 days," he said. "Ultimately, it will take longer for Barn 8, where the sick horses are being stabled, but we're optimistic that by Feb. 1, that will be it."

In the meantime, trainers and owners who attended the Jan. 10 meeting had plenty of questions. Should they keep their stable windows facing Barn 5 closed? Could rats or pigeons have carried and spread the disease? Is it safe to let the horses in Barn 5 train, even at a different time, on the same track with their own seemingly healthy horses?

"We were disinfecting the road our horses came out (of the barn) on, where they walked, and where they're washed off," said Charles Frock, who had 22 horses in Barn 5, including News Reporter. "Everyone is dipping their feet in buckets of disinfectant, just in case. I tell you, (my wife) Barbara and I feel bad. This is a burden on all the owners and trainers in Maryland.

"No one is allowed to leave the state. It is very stressful, and it was my horse that got sick. Today, a couple guys were teasing me, making crosses with their fingers saying, 'Get back! Get back! You're bad luck.' We feel bad. We feel bad it happened to our horses and that it is causing a lot of stress to so many others. But we had nothing to do with it. It's just that God decided to test us with this."

Frock, 62, who operates a farm in Westminster, Md., said it would be two months before he and other trainers in Barn 5 would be able to resume training their horses for competition.

"They can't go race, so why get them all hot or stressed in their brains," he said. "Stress itself can cause illness problems. We're just all thinking about ways to keep these horses strong and healthy."

Read more about Neurologic Equine Herpesvirus at TheHorse.com