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Vets caution horse owners after EHM confirmed in Bowman County

Local veterinarians are offering advice to horse owners after equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) was confirmed by lab results last week in a Bowman County barrel racing horse.

A couple precautions to help stop the spreading of EHM are to not let horses share feed or water containers and preventing nose-to-nose contact. Tierny Hamlin / The Dickinson Press
A couple precautions to help stop the spreading of EHM are to not let horses share feed or water containers and preventing nose-to-nose contact. Tierny Hamlin / The Dickinson Press

Local veterinarians are offering advice to horse owners after equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) was confirmed by lab results last week in a Bowman County barrel racing horse.

"With summer coming, many horses will be moving to events around the region," said State Veterinarian Dr. Susan Keller. "Care should be taken when commingling horses to minimize the chances of contracting the disease."

The horse became visibly ill on Thursday, April 19, which resulted in euthanization the same day. Horses exposed to the virus, often referred to as EHM, through other positive horses within 72 hours before symptoms showed were quarantined. This is a precaution so the virus does not spread beyond the point of contact.

"For people who have been to rodeos where there is known virus or possibility, we are telling them to take temperatures of their horses at least once a day and talk to their veterinarian if the horse is abnormal in anyway," said Dr. Erika Schumacher at West Dakota Veterinary Clinic.

The owners of horses that may have came in contact with the positive horse were contacted and advised to consult with a local veterinarian to monitor their horses. Owners were asked to cancel travel for any potentially exposed horses.

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According to a news release from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, EHM is caused by equine herpesvirus-1 and occasionally equine herpesvirus-4. EHV-1 is not uncommon and can cause respiratory disease, abortion, neonatal death and, rarely, the neurologic form of the disease, EHM. Vaccines are available for the respiratory and reproductive forms of EHV-1. They do not reliably prevent the neurologic form, but may offer some level of protection. Vaccinating horses after exposure is not recommended.

The news release also said biosecurity measures that can reduce the risk of spreading the disease include avoiding shared food or water containers and preventing nose-to-nose contact due to the virus being airborne up to 45 feet.

EHM can also spread through human clothing and hands along with trailers and tack equipment. Owners should wash their hands between handling different horses and Schumacher also recommended not handling other people's horses.

It is a must that any out-of-state horse that enters another state for any amount of time must have a certificate of veterinary inspection, commonly known as health papers.

"Certificates of veterinary inspection reduce the risk of introduction of clinical disease and help us better monitor the movement of equines into North Dakota," said Dr. Keller. "We use that information to report disease risks and findings to veterinarians and horse owners in North Dakota."

Some signs of the virus are nasal discharge, fatigue, hind limb weakness, loss of tail tone, urine dribbling, head tilt, leaning against things and inability to rise.

"When you bring the horse home that may have been exposed to the virus, quarantine them from the rest of the herd," said Schumacher. "Many people have more than one horse at home so keep that horse at least forty five feet away for around fourteen days."

According to American Association of Equine Practitioners, when diagnosing the virus veterinarians will take nasal swabs and blood samples.

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Although highly infectious and contagious among horses, EHV-1 poses no threat to human health.

"Really just talk to your veterinarian tell them where you have been, where you plan to go and who you might have been with," said Schumacher.

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