Strangles Confirmed at New York Harness Racetrack

An outbreak of the equine respiratory disease strangles has been reported in the stabling area of a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., harness racing track, and live racing at the track has been canceled until at least mid-April.

According to a statement released March 22 by officials at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, the track canceled live racing beginning last Thursday "due to cases of strangles that have been found in the backstretch.

"Saratoga Casino and Raceway is taking all the necessary preventative measures to ensure the infection does not spread to other horses," the statement read.

"We have been in contact with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board regarding the issue," John Matarazzo, director of racing operations at the casino, said in the statement. "The Racing and Wagering Board has consulted with its Equine Drug Lab and is actively monitoring the situation."

Live harness racing is expected to resume in Saratoga Springs on April 11, the statement said.

Officials at nearby Buffalo Raceway, located in Hamburg, N.Y., implemented restrictions immediately to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission between tracks: "Beginning today (March 22) any horse that has raced at Saratoga Raceway in the month of March or later will be restricted from entering the grounds of Buffalo Raceway," track officials relayed in a statement.

The statement continued to explain that horses under the care of trainers that raced at Saratoga Casino and Raceway during the month of March (or later) will not be permitted on Buffalo Raceway grounds "until further notice."

Strangles, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi, is a highly contagious disease that localizes in a horse's lymph nodes in its upper respiratory tract. Strangles can affect horses of any age, but most commonly infects those between weaning and five years of age. The disease is usually acquired after exposure to another horse that is shedding S. equi bacteria.

Clinical signs (including high fever, poor appetite, and depression) typically become evident two to six days post-exposure. Affected horses usually excrete a watery discharge from their nostrils, which will quickly turn thick and yellow. The horse's upper respiratory lymph nodes typically become enlarged and might abscess, most noticeably the ones at the throat latch area and between the jawbones (these abscesses are considered a trademark of the disease by many equestrians).

Most horses will recover, but the disease can prove fatal in about 10% of untreated horses, and about 20% of horses remain contagious for four to six weeks after all clinical signs vanish.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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