An especially virulent form of the equine herpes virus has charged through the barns of the University of Findlay, in Findlay Ohio, leaving 13 horses dead, 30 seriously ill, and many more feeling some degree of illness. Students and teachers have been devastated by the tragedy and are working to come back. In 2002, the University of Findlay’s IHSA riding teams were the national champions in both English and Western disciplines.
On Friday, January 24, the Ohio Agriculture Department confirmed that it was the equine herpes virus type 1 which had caused the illness. The facility affected was the University’s English riding complex, which houses 140 horses.
"Our laboratory test results substantiate the initial clinical diagnosis by veterinary experts a few days ago that EHV-1 caused the current outbreak of illness in horses at the university’s equestrian studies facility," state veterinarian Dr. R. David Glauer said in the local Courier news paper. Glauer added that the virus is not a threat to human health, or to other animals.
The university’s stricken horses showed symptoms of the respiratory and neurological forms, Glauer said. The virus was detected from blood and nasal samples taken from the horses. Beginning Jan. 12, many university horses began showing symptoms like fever and depression. Some had mild nasal discharge and no appetite. Within 48-72 hours, about 85 percent of the 140 horses at the English riding complex showed similar signs.
However, around the 15th, many animals began showing neurological symptoms, like coordination problems and weakness. The severity of the signs ranged from very mild to severe. About 30 cases of neurological disease have occurred, and 10 horses subsequently died or were euthanized. Four horses were referred to OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine for further evaluation and treatment.
University personnel are investigating the source of the virus outbreak with assistance from Ohio State University, however, the size of the facility, and that fact that the outbreak occurred right after the new semester had started (when huge quantities of new horses would be entering the facility), will make tracing the carrier of the virus very difficult. A self-imposed quarantine is in still in effect for the English riding facility. The Western facility located else where has escaped disease, but is also under quarantine.
OSU veterinarians have suggested keeping the horses in isolation for 30 days beyond the date of the last case. Area horse owners have been advised to quarantine their horses, too, although no mandatory quarantine is in effect for the area or the state.
EHV-1 can spread quickly among horses and can cause three different forms of disease: a respiratory disease of mostly young horses; abortions in pregnant mares; and the neurologic disease EHV-1 myeloencephalopathy, which can be fatal to horses. The respiratory disease is commonly known as "rhino" and can be vaccinated against, though the vaccine will not prevent infection by the EHV 1 virus.
The outbreak has forced the cancellation of an English riding show that was scheduled Feb. 8. Another show, scheduled for the facility on Feb. 9, also is in question. The university’s students will still be able to participate in away competitions, because the host school provides horses for those competitions. Local horsemen are suggested to use discretion in choosing to attend activities, or hold activities on their properties involving horses.