Limited Training for Isolated Horses Possible

(from Churchill Downs release)
A procedure that could allow a return to limited training for horses housed in three Churchill Downs barns placed under quarantine because of equine herpes virus was announced May 20 by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Horses in barns 6, 38, and 39 have been confined to their barns since May 17 when KDA officials imposed the quarantine because of what were confirmed to be cases of the infectious upper respiratory and neurologic illness in those barns. Those cases included two horses that were euthanized after displaying severe neurologic symptoms of the virus. Both horses were unraced 2-year-olds.

Under the plan, horses in quarantined barns in which no horses have displayed clinical symptoms of equine herpes virus during the past seven days are to be given a blood test.

If the results of those blood tests for all horses in a barn are "negative" for the presence of the virus, then the horses in that barn will be allowed to return to limited training.

The horses would remain under quarantine and would not be allowed to mix with the general horse population at Churchill Downs. The track would set aside a special training schedule for the quarantined horses, most likely during early evening hours.

The trainers whose horses are affected by the quarantine include Ronny Werner in barn 6; Steve Asmussen in Barn 38; and trainers Paul J. McGee and Bill Cesare in Barn 39. Also stabled in Barn 39 is the Ron Ellis-trained Don't Get Mad, the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby May 7 who has been under the care of McGee at Churchill.

At this point, only the horses in barn 39 meet the protocol and blood tests were performed on those horses on May 20. The results of the screening tests on those horses should be available in about 24 hours. If all horses in that barn return "negative" results for the virus, they could return to limited training apart from the general horse population as early as Saturday evening.

The clinical symptoms of equine herpes virus include fever or the development of an upper respiratory infection. They can also include lethargy, loss of appetite, a nasal discharge or a cough. The most severe neurologic symptoms of the disease can include a loss of coordination and the inability to stand.

Although the two horses that were euthanized at Churchill Downs were 2-year-olds, Kentucky State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Stout said that the threat of infection is not limited to young horses.

"Horses of various ages have been affected," said Dr. Stout. "The virus, and the disease it causes, is not age-related."

Equine herpes virus is spread through the air, although equine medical experts say the virus is short-lived and does not travel far in the air. Laboratory experiments have shown that the virus can travel as far as 35 feet.

Quarantine or isolation procedures are regarded as the most effective measures to contain the virus. Officials with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture say the recommended length of the quarantine is 21 days after the last horse displays clinical symptoms of the virus. The disease has an incubation period of two to 10 days.

Horses that ship in and out of Churchill Downs are required to present a 24-hour health certificate signed by a veterinarian before being allowed to do so. Bio-security measures are in place at each of the quarantined barns.

The source of the equine herpes virus at Churchill Downs has not been determined.