Deadly virus spurs call for horse quarantine

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A small but lethal outbreak of a highly contagious horse virus has prompted a call to quarantine all horses for a few weeks.

The Pioneer Press reports that four horses have tested positive for equine herpesvirus-1, or EHV-1. Three of the animals have been euthanized. One is recovering. Test results on three others are pending. The Star Tribune explained that the virus spreads when the horse breathes, spreading easily among horses that come in close contact.

Barrel racing may be a common link in the seven cases. Christie Ward, an equine internal medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota, is among a group of veterinarians urging horse owners to keep their animals quarantined for 28 to 30 days to stop the spread of the virus in its tracks. She told the Pioneer Press that she wants horse owners, whether they barrel race or not, to avoid any travel.

The virus is specific to horses and poses no risk to humans or other animals. The first case was reported March 7 at a farm north of Stillwater. The outbreak includes animals from Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin and Winona counties and western Wisconsin.

Last week, KSTP reported that Running Aces Harness Park is taking steps to address the virus before racing begins in April. Isolation stalls are under construction at the track in Columbus, Minnesota. The station said that six isolation stalls are already up at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.

According to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, symptoms include fever, weakness, lack of coordination and incontinence. Despite the casualties from the outbreak, veterinarians note that the strain of the equine herpesvirus-1 that is circulating in the animals is not the more dreaded neuropathogenic strain, which is even more deadly. A vaccine is available but it may not protect horses from all strains of the virus, including the neuropathogenic strain.

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