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Horse herpes continues to spread, but many horse owners and arenas are taking precautions

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 9:05 p.m. MDT

FARMINGTON — While the state has yet to officially cancel any events involving horses that might have been exposed to a local recent equine herpes outbreak, riders at the Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Jr. Queen Contest were without their mares Thursday.

Instead of competing on horses, as is typically the case for the contest, contestants were asked to walk around the arena with stick horses as their show ponies.

"It's kind of weird but you can't really help that the disease is going around," said former queen Savanna Steed. She said the stick horses will test the riders' knowledge of whether they know the routine, rather than letting the horse do all the work.

Posse member Kim Jensen said the annual contest has already been postponed for a week, to possibly wait out the quarantine, but as it is still in effect for all public arenas, the show had to go on.

"Instead of using horses, we are testing the girls' knowledge and ability to adapt," she said. "This will test if they know the pattern but, they are disappointed they don't have their real horses."

Five newly suspected cases of the equine herpes virus were reported by private veterinarians in Utah on Thursday, bringing the total suspected cases to 13. Seven horses have been confirmed to have the disease and all cases, suspected and confirmed, have been confined to six private locations in Box Elder, Davis, Kane and Utah counties.

A total of 415 horses — brought to Utah from 19 different states — were exposed to the equine herpes virus during a regional cutting horse competition held at the Golden Spike Arena in Ogden earlier this month.

Two horses in Utah have been "humanely euthanized after going down and being too sick to return to their feet," according to Utah Department of Agriculture and Food spokesman Larry Lewis. He said all cases and related facilities have been put under quarantine for 28 days following the last sign of any symptoms, which include fever, decreased coordination, nasal discharge, urine dribbling, hind limb weakness, lethargy and inability to rise.

All of the local cases, as well as nearly 50 elsewhere, have been linked to the Ogden event, held May 2-8., Lewis said.

State Veterinarian Bruce King has said he would halt all horse showing events if the disease began showing up in horses not present at the event, which has yet to happen locally.

Officials at the Golden Spike Event Center have been in communication with King and others to ensure the virus is cleared from its facilities. Within hours of first learning about the virus, they elected to take precautionary measures by disinfecting and applying an anti-microbial virus neutralizer to all equine areas, said event center general manager Jim Harvey.

He said the actions were not mandated, but "were done to give customers a confidence on the cleanliness of the facility."

The state of Utah has not changed its importation requirements for horses, mules and/or burros entering the state, but any and all horses owners who attended the Ogden event have been notified of the virus' presence and nationwide, more than 100 horses are being watched and at least 11 have either died or been put down, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A total of 75 confirmed cases have been reported in nine states (Arizona, California, Caolorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington). Of those cases, 58 are horses that were at the Ogden event.

Also, horses with direct exposure, and those within three degrees of separation from direct contact with horses at the Ogden event, have been reported at 244 locations nationwide, at the height of the horse showing season, as horses are transported to multiple and various locations. However, 183 of the exposed premises have not yet reported suspect or confirmed cases of the horse herpes virus.

Horse herpes is not considered a danger for humans, but is highly contagious among horses and other animals of the equine family. Lewis said the most common way for the virus to spread is by direct horse-to-horse contact, but it can also spread through the air, contaminated equipment, clothing and hands.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

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