Officials Explain Timing of Kentucky EHV-1 Announcement

Animal health officials today explained that the announcement about the equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) cases at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., was not made sooner was because the virus wasn’t considered to be actively circulating in the environment until a third horse exhibited clinical signs and tested positive for the virus.

A gelding and a filly with neurologic signs were admitted to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., on March 6. By March 11, positive results for EHV-1 had been received by the attending veterinarian, but quarantine protocol wasn’t established at Turfway until Monday, March 17, after a third horse developed clinical signs and tested positive for the virus. The public was notified for the first time on Tuesday, March 18.

Rusty Ford, Equine Programs Manager at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, explained, “We had two horses stabled side-by-side that were demonstrating a neurologic condition, and herpesvirus was isolated from those. At that point, it was felt that the animals affected were no longer in that environment (at Turfway), and that they themselves posed no risk of exposure to other animals.

 “When we got the third result, on Monday,” said Ford, “we then had evidence suggesting virus was circulating in that area. Prior to that, I don’t think anybody could make any assumptions.”

David Powell, BVSc, of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, gave his insight. “I think every time you get an outbreak situation, you have to be careful how you respond to those initial cases,” he said. “They may be isolated cases, but if further cases occur, then obviously there’s an indication that there’s an ongoing problem and the decision is made on all the information that you have available at that time.”

Ford emphasized that once evidence was presented that there was active virus circulating at Turfway in that particular barn, appropriate measures were taken to minimize the risk of the virus spreading outside the facility. “The state implemented specific procedures and protocol in cooperation with Turfway on Monday (March 17). Prior to that, to what extent good animal husbandry practices were followed, I don’t know.”

The virus does not appear to have spread from Barn 15, according to Ford. Horses would have to be in close proximity of affected animals to pick up the virus, he said. But were horses exposed in the time from the first case sightings until the announcement?
“That is a possibility,” said Powell. “This is a judgement call, based on all the information one has, and we reported the information out as soon as we had that information. In the early stages, the people involved weren’t sure if we were dealing with a major problem or just two individual cases.”

Powell will not speculate whether or not the virus is related to the Ohio strain or Pennsylvania EHV-1 outbreaks that were detected this year. “That is under investigation at the present time,” he said. “Until we’ve got more factual information, that gets into the realm of speculation.”

However, Ford said, “Epidemiologically, we’ve been able to make no correlation between what has been found at Turfway Park with respect to any other occurrences that have been seen this year.” He said that this investigation into the epidemiological status of this strain was conducted by the Kentucky state veterinarian’s office. “At this point, there is nothing to suggest the virus was brought to Turfway from any of the other affected areas that we’ve seen this year.”

Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Turfway officials met with the horsemen at the racetrack last night to give factual information regarding the virus. “In managing a situation like this, the horsemen themselves can be a deciding factor in our success in containing the virus to the single affected barn,” Ford added.

“Specifically we’re looking at horses in Barn 15, and other horses on the grounds,” said Ford. “With the horsemen yesterday afternoon, we advised them of the need to take temperatures every 24 hours, preferably within close proximity of the same hour each day.”

With the neurologic outbreaks seen earlier this year in Ohio and Pennsylvania, horses spiked fevers prior to developing neurologic signs. (For more information on EHV-1 outbreaks, click here.)

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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