Equine Herpevirus Hits Several Regions of England

Several regions of the United Kingdom have been fighting the neurologic form of equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1). At least 12 horses have been euthanized due to advanced neurologic deterioration resulting from infection. According to the British Horse Society, there are currently no horse movement restrictions imposed by the United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as a result of the outbreak, but officials are recommending that horse owners exercise caution in transporting horses.

United States veterinarians have had their own struggle with neurologic EHV-1, when the virus hit animals in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia early this year. The EHV-1 organism can cause three different forms of disease, including rhinopneumonitis (a respiratory disease often affecting young horses), abortions in pregnant mares, and neurologic disease. There are at least seven other strains of equine herpesviruses. Horses can survive the neurologic form of EHV-1 with supportive care, but if a horse becomes recumbent (stays down), it is difficult to nurse the horse back to health. Clinical signs of the U.K. cases have included hindlimb stiffness and a reluctance to move, hindlimb ataxia (incoordination), bladder paralysis or urine dribbling, and reduced tail tone. Signs in severe cases progressed to include frontlimb stiffness, ataxia, and recumbency. Some of the cases were preceded by pyrexia, or fever.

The first cases of EHV in the U.K. were reported at a racing stable in Gloucestershire, where two affected horses died. A point-to-point horse died of the virus in Sussex, and two showjumpers in Surrey experienced a mild form of the neurological strain of EHV-1 and are recovering. The Bromley Common area of Kent has been hit the hardest in the outbreak--seven horses died or were euthanized due to EHV-1. Two additional horses have been euthanized in Essex, according to an April 11 report from the United Kingdom's Animal Health Trust. Officials have not reported a connection between any of the outbreak premises.

British Horse Society's Head of Welfare, Kerstin Alford, said, "We fully appreciate horse owners' concern at this worrying time, and we want to help as much as we can. Our advice is to monitor your horse's health closely and take sensible precautions when hacking out or traveling, avoiding any areas where the virus has been confirmed. Should your horse be unfortunate enough to show signs of the virus, try to keep him isolated and use disinfectant every time he is handled, both before and afterwards. If possible, whoever is handling an infected horse should not come into contact with other horses until the virus has abated.

"The virus does not spread over long distances through the air and infection is usually passed from horse to horse by contact, but if you are concerned you should contact your vet for further advice," Alford added.

The British Horse Society is advising its members to exercise common sense over the recent outbreak and is ready to offer help in the way of information to any horse owner during the current time of concern. Visit http://www.bhs.org.uk for more information.

An April 11 Pro-MED report quoted Horse & Hound magazine as saying, "Anyone wishing to travel should first check with organizers that the event is still running; secondly they should be make sure that they will not be traveling from an area in close proximity to one of the recent outbreaks."