Deadly virus strikes horses

An east Hillsborough horse farm is under quarantine for equine herpes virus-1.

Published April 5, 2007

THONOTOSASSA - A deadly equine virus that frightened horse owners in much of Florida last year has reached the Tampa Bay area.

State officials quarantined an east Hillsborough horse farm 11 days ago after two horses there developed the highly contagious equine herpes virus-1 and had to be euthanized.

The 15 other horses at Cross Creek Farm are being monitored daily by farm personnel, local veterinarians and state officials.

Keith Powell, who owns the Keilyn hunter-jumper show barn in Lutz with his wife, said Wednesday that he is making sure all 42 horses at his farm are up-to-date on their vaccinations. Powell said an outbreak of the virus in Palm Beach County last year kept him away from horse shows there in January. Instead, he took his horses to shows in Jacksonville.

"It wasn't so scary when the outbreak was on the east coast," said Georgann Powers, who has operated Foxwood hunter-jumper show barn in Pinellas Park for 40 years. "Now it's scary."

The state quarantine on Cross Creek Farm means no horses can be added or removed from the premises. Workers are being told to disinfect their outer footwear and wash their hands.

Since the outbreak was confirmed March 25, "there have been no other clinical signs of the virus," said Michael Short, the equine programs manager in the state veterinarian's office in Tallahassee. He said quarantines usually are lifted after 21 days if there are no further signs of the virus.

There is a vaccine for EHV-1, commonly known as rhinopneumonitis or rhino, but it does not protect against the neurologic strain of the disease. The primary benefit of the vaccine, Short said, is reducing the chances of the virus spreading.

State officials aren't sure how the horses at Cross Creek became infected.

"(Cross Creek) is a boarding facility where people do mostly trail riding," Short said. "There is minimal movement at this barn. The owners don't do a lot of showing or traveling."

Short said one possibility is that one of the horses contracted the virus in its early years and recovered. But "once infected, you're infected for life," he said.

Times staff writer Andrew Meacham contributed to this report.


About the disease

What is equine herpes virus-1?

Equine herpes virus-1 (EHV-1) is a contagious disease of horses that can cause respiratory disease, abortion and occasionally neurologic disease.

How is the EHV-1 disease spread?

It is spread through air and by contaminated objects (feed, clothing, boots, hands, etc.)

Can EHV-1 spread to humans?

No, but people can transport the virus on their clothes, boots, etc.

Can EHV-1 spread to other animal species?


Is there a vaccine available to help prevent the spread of EHV-1?

Yes, but it doesn't directly protect against the neurological form of the disease.

How do you test for EHV-1?

A blood test is available. Test results usually take three to seven days to complete.

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture