Maryland Horse Tests Positive for Rabies

Maryland state veterinarian Phyllis Cassano, DVM, announced on July 3 that an Anne Arundel County, Md., horse had tested positive for rabies. The 7-year-old Quarter Horse mare had 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 got 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, "The current situation emphasizes the importance of the rabies vaccine for horses, especially if they are competing or otherwise interacting with other animals and the general public."

Sue Dupont, MDA communications director, said 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.

Rabies is a fatal disease, but it's easily preventable with vaccination. Typical signs include a change in behavior, unexplainable paralysis, distress, and extreme agitation, sometimes accompanied by rolling. Treatment for rabies is effective in humans, but it 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 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 directly exposed to a positive rabies case must remain in quarantine for 45 days if they are current with their rabies vaccination; exposed horses with unknown vaccination histories or which aren't current on their rabies shots must be quarantined for six months.

"We're really trying to use this as an opportunity to educate folks and stress 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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