Sunland Park Horsemen Urged to Keep Up Biosecurity Practices

Sunland Park Horsemen Urged to Keep Up Biosecurity Practices

Sunland Park horsemen are required to take the temperature(s) of their horse(s) twice a day, then record and report that information daily by order of the New Mexico Racing Commission.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

More than a week after the first case of equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) was confirmed at Sunland Park Racetrack, in New Mexico, horsemen and women at the track are being urged to continue practicing basic biosecurity measures to help end the outbreak so quarantines can be lifted and the track can return to racing as soon as possible.

New Mexico's acting state veterinarian Alexandra Eckhoff, DVM, was among those who spoke to owners, trainers, and grooms who gathered on Feb. 1 for a pair of meetings—one in English, one in Spanish—hosted by racetrack officials.

Eckhoff urged horsemen and women to continue to:

  • Wash their hands before and after working with a horse;
  • Disinfect their clothing and footwear before and after working with a horse;
  • Wash and disinfect any items—feed/water buckets, grooming gear, saddles, other tack, etc.—that horses have touched or might touch; 
  • Avoid walking through barns where they have no horses; and
  • Take the temperature of their horse(s) twice a day, then record and report that information daily by order of the New Mexico Racing Commission (NMRC). Fever is often the first indicator of EHV-1.

The NMRC last week said horsemen and women who fail to take and report the temperatures of their horse(s) risk being fined $250 and/or having their license suspended.

In addition to state government's regulatory measures, Sunland Park has taken its own steps to control the potential spread of the virus. Racetrack officials installed a compliance officer last week to ensure that, among other things, men and women at the track were taking and accurately reporting their horses' body temperatures.

Samples taken from horses suspected of having the virus are being tested at New Mexico Department of Agriculture's (NMDA) Veterinary Diagnostic Services Laboratory in Albuquerque. Officials note that the number of confirmed cases is less than 2% of the more than 1,600 horses at the racetrack.

Herpesvirus is highly contagious among horses and can cause a variety of ailments in equids, including rhinopneumonitis (a respiratory disease usually found in young horses), abortion in broodmares, and myeloencephalopathy (the neurologic form). In many horses, fever is the only sign of EHV-1 infection, which can go undetected.

Health Alert: Equine Herpesvirus

In addition to fever, other common signs of EHV-1 infection in young horses include cough, decreased appetite, depression, and a nasal discharge. Pregnant mares typically show no signs of infection before they abort, and abortions usually occur late in gestation (around eight months), but can be earlier. Abortions can occur anywhere from two weeks to several months following infection with EHV-1.

Horses with the neurologic form usually have a fever at the onset of the disease and might show signs of a respiratory infection. A few days later, neurologic signs such as ataxia (incoordination), weakness or paralysis of the fore- and hind limbs, urine retention and dribbling, loss of tail tone, and recumbency (inability to rise) develop.

"EHV-1 is not a death sentence for a horse," Tim Hanosh, DVM, director of NMDA's Veterinary Diagnostic Services Laboratory, said. “Most horses will get over the fever. Some will develop minor neurological signs they can recover from. But, unfortunately, a few will develop severe neurological problems they can't recover from."

Several barns at Sunland Park remain under quarantine following the first EHV-1 confirmation Jan. 21. As an extra precaution, the New Mexico Livestock Board established a broader quarantine perimeter that encircles Sunland Park and three nearby horse-training centers (Frontera, Jovi, and Lazy S) on Jan. 22. People who removed their horses from any of these premises before quarantines were established are advised to contact their veterinarian.

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