Tips for Protecting Horses from EHM

Tips for Protecting Horses from EHM

Horse exhibitors and event goers should monitor their horses for early signs of infection by taking their temperature twice a day while at shows and immediately after returning horse, and report an elevated temperature to their veterinarian.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Richard Wilkes, DVM, state veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), says Virginia was fortunate in regards to a case of equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) confirmed in the commonwealth in April.

A horse in Fauquier was diagnosed with EHM and euthanized on April 10, but no other horses at the animal's home farm or from a steeplechase event in which the horse participated prior to becoming ill showed signed of illness. This was due both to good luck as well as a good response, Wilkes said.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the farm’s stable manager,” said Wilkes. “He recognized immediately that something was wrong with the horse because it was not eating and had a fever. He called the veterinarian as soon as the horse began to have neurological signs, and the veterinarian quickly submitted samples to the VDACS laboratory to be tested for EHM.

"Due to the positive test result and the severity of the clinical signs, the owner chose to euthanize the affected horse the same day the diagnosis was reported by the lab, which minimized the chances of further spread of the virus," he continued. "This particular farm already practiced excellent biosecurity but stepped that up. The VDACS quarantined the farm to prevent spread of the disease.”

The farm was released from quarantine on May 9.

Wilkes says owners need to take precautions to protect horses from EHM and other contagious diseases. His advice for horse owners and stable/event managers is twofold:

  • Practice biosecurity routinely. Do not share tack among horses and minimize direct contact among assembled horses whenever possible. People can spread the disease, too, if their hands, clothing, shoes, or vehicles are contaminated, so wear coveralls, boot covers or use disinfectant baths when dealing with an infected horse, if feasible. Isolate and closely monitor horses that are returning from a show, trail ride or competition for a minimum of 14 days.
  • Be aware. Horse exhibitors and event goers should monitor their horses for early signs of infection by taking their temperature twice a day while at shows and immediately after returning horse, and report an elevated temperature to their veterinarian. Look for neurologic signs indicative of EHM—such as a wobbly gait, hind-end weakness, and urine dribbling—and call your veterinarian early if you are concerned. Don’t wait—you know your horse and if you are concerned, call the veterinarian.

Veterinarians should report suspected cases of EHM to the Office of Veterinary Services in the state veterinarian’s office at 804/786-2483.

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