Ohio Needs Samples; Cost for Testing Reduced

By Sarah E. Hogwood

Veterinarians in Ohio are continuing to try to make sense of why an increased number of abortions, stillbirths, and red bag deliveries are occurring in the Ohio River Valley. Ohio counties that are seeing problems similar to the Kentucky syndromes now include Highland, Vinton, Jackson, Gallia, Meigs, Athens, Washington, Morgan, and Scioto counties. There is also an isolated report from Geauga County in the north of the state that does not fit geographically with the pattern emerging in the Ohio River Valley. Unfortunately, the reason why these problems are occurring might never be discovered due to a lack of submissions to the diagnostic lab, according to Dr. Grant Frazer, an associate professor at The Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinarians have been reporting problems to Frazer on a steady basis. Some vets have indicated that their clients have not been sending in samples to the diagnostic lab due to the cost of the testing. While testing in Kentucky is free, Ohio owners must pay $50, which includes necropsy, a bacterial culture, virologic testing, and serologic testing, according to Dr. Sheila Grimes, Pathology Section Head for the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. She said the tests usually cost the lab $300-$400, and usually horse owners pay $100 for testing.

However, the fee was reduced on May 18 to $50 for the abortion panel for the next 30 days.

This year the lab has received 18 cases of equine abortion from January through May 16, while last year they received 21 cases in the same time span. "We can't assume that just because the lab is not seeing more submissions that there's not a problem," Frazer said. "People must send in fetal membranes and fetuses if they've had abortions. Also, if we don't get pasture samples, we'll never know."

Grimes said none of the samples sent in this year were from the southern counties where problems are occurring. "Until we get samples from that part of the state, it's hard to say (what is causing the problem)."

Grimes said the state vet's office is planning to send a notice to all county extension agents in the southern counties to alert them to the problems. In addition, the Ohio state veterinarian's office has been keeping apprised of the situation with the Kentucky state veterinarian's office and the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington, Ky.

So for now, Ohio horse owners and veterinarians wait for answers. But, in order for Ohio veterinarians and researchers to determine if the abortions are from the same thing that Kentucky breeders are dealing with, or whether it is from one of the many other causes of abortion, samples must be sent in for analysis.

Abortions can be caused for a variety of reasons, including leptospirosis, equine herpesvirus, equine viral arteritis, bacterial and fungal causes, venereal diseases, twin pregnancy, Potomac horse fever, infection and inflammation in the mare's reproductive tract, placental or umbilical cord problems, premature placental separation, mycoplasmas, protozoa, and developmental anomalies. Abortions also can be the result of other causes, such as a genetic weakness, chromosomal factors, inadequate nutrition, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, ingestion of harmful plants (such as endophyte-infected fescue during certain stages of the pregnancy), hormonal factors, environmental factors, physical factors, and certain medications.

According to Equine Reproduction, edited by Angus O. McKinnon, BVSc, MSc, Dipl. ACT, Dipl. ABVP, and James Voss, DVM, MS, "The likelihood of reaching an etiologic diagnosis for abortion is always greater if both the fetus and placenta are examined. The fetus and placenta should be sent to a diagnostic laboratory to take advantage of the specialty training of the personnel and the environment better suited to aseptic collection of specimens for microbiologic examination."

Grimes has been recommending that horse owners submit aborted fetuses and deceased foals with the placenta for testing. In addition, she recommends that owners submit pasture samples so that any problematic endophytes or mycotoxins can be identified. Owners and veterinarians can reach the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at 8995 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg, OH 43068; 614/728-6220.