A horse virus goes around animal world

A large outbreak of the equine herpes virus EHV-1 killed several show jumpers. Puts horse riders in great worry for their four-legged friends. In Switzerland the situation is under control. But herpes can flare up at any time. The most important facts about the virus.

A horse virus is going around the animal world

Equine herpesvirus spreads by coughing or snorting through the secretions of the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose of infected horses. (Image: Peera_stockfoto / shutterstock. The bad news came from Spain. They shocked the equestrian world. An aggressive form of the equine herpes virus EHV-1 had broken out at a major show in Valencia, where hundreds of horses from all over Europe were scheduled to compete over seven weeks. As affected animals were not isolated in time, the virus spread in the stable tents. In the end, most of the four-legged friends were infected, and at least ten international show jumpers died – either on site or at home. Many riders had returned to their home countries with their horses without knowing that their four-legged friends had been infected.

"This is one of the worst herpes outbreaks in decades," informed the FEI World Equestrian Federation. He imposed an international tournament stop in Europe until the 28th of March. March. The Swiss equestrian federation SVPS followed suit a week later. banned all national concours in this country for the same period. The Swiss equestrian federation SVPS followed suit a week later. Ban for the same period also in this country all national Concours.

Report from "EuroNews" from Valencia

Monitoring of affected horses
For the equestrian scene, which was slowly getting back on track after being paralyzed for almost a year because of Corona, this is another bad news. "But first and foremost we are concerned about the health of our horses," says squad show jumper Alain Jufer, who lives in Elgg ZH and has the world no. 1 Steve Guerdat trains. The two were at another show in Spain with more than a dozen horses when the outbreak became known. They immediately returned home, where the four-legged friends are since then in a voluntary quarantine. From Valencia are also some infected. Jumping horses infected with HEV-1 returned to Switzerland. These animals were immediately isolated and are now being professionally cared for by their owners and veterinarians. The affected stables in the cantons of Zug and Vaud are under surveillance, so that no further spread of the virus has occurred so far.

The situation in Switzerland is under control, say the experts of a task force set up by the SVPS and call on horse owners to remain calm. According to their assessment, the risk of infection is small for horses that have had no contact with the affected animals in Spain. They recommend that no major training events be held at this time, but have no concerns about local meetings, training at riding clubs, or classes with horses whose origins are known. And they appeal to the personal responsibility of each equestrian sportsman to participate in such events only with a healthy horse.

Herpes viruses are "old acquaintances" found in many species: In humans, the pathogens are responsible for "cold sores," in cats they can cause cat rhinitis, and in dogs they can cause fertility problems. Most foals or young horses also go through a herpes infection. They are not immune afterwards, but remain "silent carriers". The virus persists in the organism. Causes no damage there. However, the pathogen can break out during stress due to transport, stable changes, tournament visits or injuries.

Horses excrete herpes viruses through the fluids of the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose and can infect other horses by coughing, snorting or sniffing at them. The virus also spreads indirectly through the rider's or groom's hands or clothes, tack and grooming equipment, feed and water buckets, horse trailers and show stalls. Under ideal conditions, the virus survives on surfaces for up to four weeks.

A veterinarian explains what the equine herpes virus is

Humans do not become infected
There are different types of equine herpes virus, with EHV-1, EHV-3, EHV-4 and EHV-5 being relevant for the horse and causing diseases with different symptoms. Humans do not get sick from equine herpes viruses because they are host specific. Most feared are infections with the type EHV-1. This can be detected by a PCR test in the laboratory after a nasal swab or blood sample has been taken – there are no rapid tests available.

After the incubation period, which can range from a few days to two weeks, the first symptom that sick horses show is a slight fever. Upper respiratory tract infection with nasal discharge, possible cough, weakened general condition and loss of appetite. With most it comes afterwards to a self-healing. In more severe cases, EHV-1 attacks the mucous membranes of the uterus and placenta in pregnant mares. The growing fetus is no longer supplied with sufficient nutrients and is subsequently aborted. Or the foal is born weak for life. Usually dies in the first days of life.

In the neurological form of EHV-1, as outbreaked in Spain, the virus spreads through the bloodstream and infects the nervous system, which can lead to neurological deficits. Affected horses move uncoordinated, show hindquarter weakness, loss of tail tone, loss of urine, they try to lean or finally lie down. Sometimes it is possible to get these horses back on their feet, but usually the prognosis at this stage is poor despite intensive medical treatment. The animals suffer permanent damage or have to be euthanized.

Tips from the veterinarian for horse owners

Isolated outbreaks of EHV are rare in Switzerland. By law, herpes is therefore not considered an epizootic disease and is not notifiable. However, there should be a voluntary notification to the information platform for early detection of equine diseases "Equinella", both to ensure transparency and health management of the Swiss horse population.

No complete protection
In an outbreak, the virus usually spreads epidemically within a farm or within a region. Spatial isolation of affected horses or the entire farm, along with a strict hygiene regime, curbs further spread. These quarantine measures are not obligatory, but should be carried out on a voluntary basis in the sense of general duty of care.

There is a vaccine against EHV-1/EHV-4, but it does not provide complete protection. The vaccination is therefore also not obligatory. However, equine veterinarians recommend it for pregnant mares, on breeding farms, and for sport horses that are exposed to greater stress and frequently compete in competitions. Vaccinating your horse quickly against the current outbreak is of little use, because with the basic vaccination it takes several weeks to build up the vaccine protection.

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