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Kansas Ag Connection - 05/06/2014

It's springtime and for many horse enthusiasts, that means heading out to horse shows and rodeos. But two recent cases of Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy, after a barrel racing event in Nebraska should serve as a reminder that good biosecurity practices can help prevent illnesses, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.

Beth Davis, a professor of clinical sciences in K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine referred to two cases of EHM that were diagnosed after a large barrel racing event in Lincoln, Nebraska, April 10-13. One of the horses, from a farm in northeast Kansas, became ill after its return to Kansas, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. It was euthanized and samples tested by the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Equine Diagnostics Services in Lexington, Kentucky confirmed EHM. The other confirmed case was a horse from Wisconsin that also was present at the Nebraska event.

"EHM can be highly contagious," said Davis of the neurologic disease associated with equine herpesvirus infections. "If we're not careful, this virus can spread and can be life threatening."

The virus that causes EHM is called EHV-1. EHV-1 is common and can be present in a horse for years, causing a minor illness when first contracted and in most cases never develops into EHM. Most commonly EHV-1 causes mild to moderate respiratory disease, abortion in pregnant broodmares, illness in young foals. Fortunately, only rarely EHV-1 actually causes EHM. In some cases and especially in times of stress, however, the virus can be reactivated and shed to others. Stressful situations such as strenuous exercise, long-distance transport or weaning can be the trigger for viral shedding.

"What determines whether a horse gets sick is its immune system," Davis said. "If a horse's immune system is not strong and the animal is under stress, EHV-1 can develop into EHM. We usually see this after horses have been in a large group, such as at horse shows, rodeos or race tracks."

Symptoms usually start with a fever. The illness may progress and show signs of weakness and a lack of coordination. Urine dribbling and lethargy may also signal the disease, and sometimes the illness progresses to a horse going down, Davis said. In the worst cases where the animal can't rise, also called recumbency, they can die or are so ill that they will be euthanized.

More information about EHM and EHV-1 and keeping horses healthy is also available at and

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