The incidence of known pericarditis cases in Central Kentucky has reached nearly 60 horses. At least a dozen horses have died because of the condition, which produces inflammation of, and fluid in, the sac surrounding the heart.

The cases have been submitted to the Kentucky Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center for necropsy. Only about three were clinical cases seen in area hospitals. Horses of all ages and breeds have been affected with pericarditis in multiple counties in Central Kentucky, with one case reported in Ohio. The normal number of horses diagnosed with pericarditis in Central Kentucky is two or three a year.

Courtesy Dr. Johanna Reimer

An ultrasound of a horse with pericarditis. Above, colorized, to better show the affected area.

Dr. Doug Byars, head of the medicine unit for Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary firm near Lexington, said Dr. Nathan Slovis of the medicine unit has been appointed the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners coordinator in gathering information about the heart and eye (uveitis) problems. There also have been about 50 reported cases of uveitis, always in one eye.

Dr. Johanna Reimer, a veterinary heart specialist with Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital near Lexington, and Dr. Claire Latimer, a veterinarian who specializes in veterinary eye problems, are working with Slovis.

A meeting of the KAEP's Emerging Diseases Committee was scheduled for Monday (June 11). It followed a meeting on June 6 of equine veterinarians and University of Kentucky officials to discuss heart- and eye-related problems.

Byars said the private practitioners have been in contact with a human cardiology specialist whose son is a veterinarian. The cardiologist, who has followed the pericarditis story on the Internet, said epidemiology on the equine cases needs to be done immediately and aggressively. He also said that there are viruses in humans that can cause rare types of heart problems.

One of the strange things about horses with pericarditis that come into the clinic, Byars said, is that they are in heart failure and near death, but don't have weight loss or poor body condition.

"The question is that if we have been seeing these cases for four or five weeks, and they have been fighting this off since then, why don't they come in with weight loss?" Byars said. "Is this delayed onset, or is there something still out there causing the heart problems? We are still seeing new cases, so obviously this isn't a true bell curve as we had hoped. But it's trailing off."

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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