Vesicular Stomatitis Hits Texas

Vesicular stomatitis (VS), a disease with international implications for animal movement because symptoms mimic those of foot and mouth disease (FMD), was confirmed May 19 in western Texas. Kentucky was the first state to respond--officials initially banned the import of Texas horses and other livestock. On May 27, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher amended the ban with an emergency regulation, allowing livestock from most of Texas to enter the Commonwealth under certain conditions.

Horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and deer can contract VS, which causes blisters in the mouth, on teats, or along the coronary band of hooves. These blisters can result in excessive salivation, lameness, and/or oozing sores. VS clinical signs can generate considerable concern because they resemble those of the highly contagious FMD, which hasn't been found in the U.S. since 1929. Lab tests can differentiate between the two. Unlike FMD, VS can affect horses. A safe, effective vaccine against VS is not available in the United States.

According to Max Coats, DVM, deputy director for Animal Health Programs for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), VS was confirmed in three horses on a ranch in Reeves County in western Texas. The disease was initially detected on May 10. The source of the disease is unknown--there was no history of recent herd additions or exposure to other animals. The ranch was to be quarantined for several weeks until all animals are free of the disease.

Arthropods such as ticks, mites, biting midges, mosquitoes, and house flies transmit the virus. VS-infected animals also can spread the virus through saliva or the fluid from ruptured blisters. Humans can contract VS and develop flu-like symptoms.

Prior VS outbreaks occurred in 1995 (in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Texas), 1997 (in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah), and 1998 (in Reeves County, Texas and New Mexico).

Kentucky Imposes Bans

Kentucky state veterinarian Robert Stout, DVM, said, "I don't even want to think of (what would happen if VS hit Kentucky), it would be disastrous. VS poses a serious threat to the Kentucky horse industry because of the sheer volume of horses shipped internationally from the state."

The initial Kentucky ban prohibited import of horses from Texas for 30 days after the final VS case diagnosis. The amended order still required equids coming from states bordering Texas to have a negative VS test within 30 days preceding entry into Kentucky. In 2003, approximately 2,099 head of livestock entered Kentucky from Texas (mostly cattle, horses, and goats).

In the amendment, livestock were still prohibited from entering Kentucky if coming from any of about 60 west Texas counties surrounding the affected ranch. "I have signed an order that minimizes the impact of the ban on the Kentucky livestock industry while maintaining adequate protections for Kentucky animals," said Gov. Fletcher.

The ruling paved the way for Kentucky horsemen to reconsider shipping horses to Lone Star Park for the annual Lone Star Million (a series of Thoroughbred stakes races), held on May 31 in Grand Prarie, Texas. The VS-affected ranch is about 480 miles southwest of the track. Horses returning from Texas must have a negative VS test within the 30-day period preceding entry into Kentucky.

"This is extremely positive news," said Jeff Greco, Lone Star Park's vice president and general manager.

Greco said that Lone Star Park's racing officials were "working tirelessly" following Fletcher's May 27 announcement to communicate the news to Kentucky-based horsemen and recruit a few more runners for the races.

On May 26, Texas Racing Commission veterinarians completed examinations of 1,450 horses stabled at Lone Star Park, and none showed signs of VS. All horses entering stable areas at the track were to be examined by Texas licensed vets to ease VS concerns.

EU Places Restrictions

On May 25, the American Horse Council reported that the European Union (EU) was requiring that all horses traveling from the U.S. to the EU have a negative (1:12) virus neutralization VS test. The test samples were to be taken within 10 days prior to temporary export, and within 21 days prior to permanent export.

In accordance with EU regulations, this test requirement was to remain in place until six months after the outbreak.

EU horses scheduled to return home from the U.S. must be accompanied by certification that they have not been on a VS-affected premises during their U.S. stay. Currently posted equine export certificates provide for these changes.

Some pending shipments might be delayed for testing. No U.S. horses can be certified for entry in to the EU until test results are reported.

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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