OSU Equine Hospital Temporarily Closes for Cleaning and Disinfection; Three Horses Showed Neurologic Signs

The Equine Hospital at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has closed its doors to non-emergency horse admissions until Feb. 20, 2003. This action has been taken to allow disinfection of the hospital because of potential contamination by horses admitted January 18, 19, and 24, 2003 from an outbreak of equine herpes virus type 1 (EHV-1) infection that occurred at the University of Findlay. (visit http://www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=4137 for the latest update on the Findlay situation).

This thorough cleaning and disinfection is in addition to that routinely performed after each patient is discharged from the hospital. Steve Reed, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM of The Ohio State University, said "We have just disinfected our entire equine center. We're divided into two hospitals, recleaning (the new equine suite area), and we will re-open the Galbreath (equine) center." According to Reed, hospital officials are considering the approximately 70 horses that have been at the hospital since Jan. 18 as exposed, and they are asking horse owners to leave the horses at the hospital for 21 days.

"We've had some horses that have left here and we've notified those owners," he explained. "Two that left here and one that remained at the hospital developed neurological signs."

"We have not confirmed that (the three neurologic cases) are EHV-1.Those tests are out, and we're working on the premise that that's what they have. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and all the usual testing is being done, and we should have some of those results back soon."

The EHV-1 organism can spread quickly from horse to horse through aerosol droplets in the air or contact with equipment used by affected horses and can cause three different forms of disease, including rhinopneumonitis (a respiratory disease affecting mostly young horses), abortions in pregnant mares, and neurologic disease. The Findlay outbreak combined the respiratory and neurological signs. There are at least seven other strains of equine herpesviruses, named in order of their discovery. (See http://www.TheHorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=32 for more on herpesviruses.)

Equine herpesviruses cannot live long in the environment on their own. "if you were to have a bunch of horses (in an EHV outbreak) that have nasal discharge, and you were to put that (discharge) on hair, and keep it cool, it might last a couple of days. It's an enveloped virus (has an outer wrapping or "envelope" made from a small piece of the infected cell's plasma membrane), and it's fairly easily killed," Reed said. If there had been aborted fetuses and tissues due to EHV in the patients' environment, then there would be another potential risk of spread, but this was not the case. Reed said that staff members are cleaning with bleach and other agents.

"It's in the world," he said, "It's a very ubiquitous virus and usually goes undetected. It's a worrisome thing--if you looked at horses out in the world, you probably wouldn't find a horse over a year of age that hasn't been exposed to the virus."

He said that the possibility exists that horses which exhibited neurologic symptoms after arrival at OSU had the virus upon admission. That the Findlay outbreak occurred after the movement of a group of 16 new horses and others into the University of Findlay facility suggests that it's out there in the equine population. Even though horses that display neurologic signs (like the four admitted from the University of Findlay) are not likely contagious at this stage of symptoms, officials believe there is a chance that other horses in the hospital "likely got exposed here."

"We don't want to spread panic," said Reed. He explained that many of the horses that left the facility after Jan. 18 have been home for three weeks, and if no clinical signs have developed (fever, etc.), it is not likely they were infected. "Being honest is the way to do it," he said.

Of the two horses that left (OSU and developed neurologic signs), one is getting better-that horse is one a two-horse farm." The other horse which came to OSU with a serious injury, returned to its farm where all of the horses live outside, except for that horse which was injured. The horse was euthanized today (Feb. 14).

"The good news is that these horses were isolated from groups of horses," he said. "But we have to notify everybody because of that potential risk."

The third horse that developed neurologic signs did so while at OSU, was moved into isolation, and since has been euthanized. "We are carefully investigating to determine if this horse also has EHV-1."

"We think people need to know is that this is a worldwide distribution of a virus, and this does appear to be a very virulent form of the virus," said Reed, who reminded <I>The Horse</I> that George Allen, PhD, at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center and collaborators are doing everything they can to identify if this strain is, in fact, atypical.

In the meantime, emergency admissions will come to the Galbreath Equine Center, with the owners' prior understanding that the horse must stay for 21 days. There are no horses at OSU with symptoms of EHV-1 currently, but there are horses there that could have been exposed, so officials are keeping them for three times the longest possible contagious period of the disease-21 days.

The owner can also put an incoming patient in isolation, but there are only nine isolation stalls available. "If you agree to have it brought here for a colic surgery, for example, we recommend that the horse is here recovering for 10-12 days anyway," he explained. "So the horse would stay for nine more days as a safety precaution."

A lengthy equine hospital stay is an expensive endeavor. Therefore, the billing for patients who are having an extended stay due to possible exposure to the virus, is being handled on a case-by-case basis.

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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