CEM Prompts Restrictions on Virgin Islands Horse Imports

U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Department of Agriculture Commissioner of Agriculture Louis E. Petersen Jr., PhD, announced that import restrictions have been temporarily issued for horses coming into the territory in a May 24 press release.

“Due to a confirmed case of contagious equine metritis (CEM) diagnosed in a horse in Puerto Rico, horses from Puerto Rico or traveling through Puerto Rico will not be allowed entry into the U.S. Virgin Islands until further notice," Petersen said. "In addition, horses coming from Florida must now be tested for this disease. The USDA and Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture met with Dr. Bethany Bradford (DVM), director of veterinary services, (May 23) regarding this rare disease situation and we have jointly decided to make these necessary adjustments in the (Virgin Islands) in order to protect the horse population in the territory.”

CEM is a highly contagious venereal disease of horses caused by the bacterium Taylorella equigenitalis. The disease, which can cause infertility, can be passed through breeding or via contaminated equipment. The bacterium that causes CEM can also be transmitted indirectly via semen during artificial insemination. Stallions do not develop signs of infection, but CEM should be considered in mares that have an early return to estrus after breeding to a fertile stallion and/or the presence of vaginal discharge. After diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis for recovery is excellent.

In the press release Bradford reported that the USDA and Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture are currently investigating all the horses that might have come in contact with the infected horse in Puerto Rico and in Florida, the suspected origin of the infected horse. Bradford said preliminary reports indicate that USVI horses recently imported from Puerto Rico have not been exposed to the infected horse.

“However, because most of our racehorses come from Puerto Rico or Florida the USVI must make changes to the import regulations to protect our local horse population until the investigation is completed," Bradford noted. "Furthermore, this is why we have animal import rules in place and why we are committed to enforcing them.”

Commissioner Petersen commended the work of the division of veterinary services in regulating imported animals and enforcing the health and identification requirements of all animals entering the USVI.

“It is reassuring to know that we have the trained personnel in place to respond quickly and effectively to incidents of potential risk to our horse population,” he said.

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