Maryland Horse Tests Positive for Rabies

Maryland state veterinarian Phyllis Cassano, DVM, announced today that an Anne Arundel County, Md., horse has tested positive for rabies. The 7-year-old Quarter Horse mare named Coup de Harmony had recently competed at the East Coast Barrel Bash in Harrington, Del., June 19-21.

The mare began showing clinical signs July 20, while still at the show. According to the owner's report, she was acting aggressively, kicking, biting at the stall walls and door, head-pressing, and biting at her sides. The mare was euthanized June 26 at the treating veterinarian's facility in Cecil County. Officials at the Maryland Department of Agriculture received the positive test results on submitted tissue June 27, and since have been calling a list of exhibitors from the horse show.

In a Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) release, Cassano said "We are conducting a full investigation into the case and have made contact with most of the competitors at the event in Delaware and individuals who may have come in contact with the horse recently. We are reaching out at this time to make sure we did not miss anyone who might have had physical exposure to the rabid horse. The current situation emphasizes the importance of the rabies vaccine for pets and horses, especially if they are competing or otherwise interacting with other animals and the general public."

Sue Dupont, communications director for MDA, said that there was no proof that the infected mare had been vaccinated for rabies, and says that the number of horses in direct contact with the mare was small. "There were a couple of horses directly in contact with the mare--one was vaccinated and the other had just recently been purchased, and owners are trying to get the vaccination history."

Rabies is a fatal disease but easily preventable with current vaccination. Typical signs include a change in behavior, unexplainable paralysis, distress, and extreme agitation, sometimes accompanied by rolling. Preventive treatment for rabies is effective in humans but must be started as soon as possible after exposure.

Most rabies cases are transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. As far as officials know, the mare didn't bite any people or horses, but since rabies can be spread through the saliva (to the eye, nose, mouth, or open cut of a person or animal, even though the risk of indirect transmission is low), officials are being very cautious. Horses that are directly exposed to a positive rabies case must remain in quarantine for 45 days if they are current with their rabies vaccination; horses exposed that have unknown vaccination histories or aren't current on their rabies shot must be quarantined for six months. 

"We're really trying to use this as an opportunity to educate folks and stressing the importance for getting vaccinations done," said Dupont. "In reality, horses that are turned out could come in contact with a rabid animal just as easily, if not more so, as a pet (like a cat or dog) in some instances."

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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