Del Mar: Equine virus not expected to impact racing season

By Kelley Carlson


A recent breakout of an equine virus has some horse owners spooked.

Organizers of the Surf and Sun Andalusian Horse Show canceled their event, slated for June 10 through 12 at the Del Mar Horsepark, because of a low number of entries. Nancy Nathenson, secretary of the California Andalusian Horse Alliance and also secretary of the competition, cited worries about the Equine Herpes Virus-1 as the reason.

“Vets were advising people not to go,” she said.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, this outbreak of the Equine Herpes Virus, or EHV-1, seems to have originated from cutting horses who competed in the Western National Championship from April 30 through May 8 in Ogden, Utah. Some of the same horses also participated in the Kern County Cutting Horse event on May 13 in Bakersfield.

The National Cutting Horse Association reported that 54 horses from California had been exposed to the neurological strain of the EHV-1 virus, known as Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy, or EHM. As of June 13, there were 22 confirmed cases, with none in San Diego County.

Symptoms of EHM often include fever, hindquarter weakness, lethargy and nasal discharge. It’s mainly spread via nasal secretions and direct horse-to-horse contact, but can also be spread indirectly through contact with objects contaminated with EHV-1, such as feed and water buckets, clothing, human hands and tack. It’s not transmissible to humans.

Studies indicate that the majority of horses infected with the virus will have a fever, according to the CDHA. Most of them recover, but about 5 percent to 15 percent of infected horses will die or be euthanized.

Despite the fact that the virus appears to be concentrated among cutting horses and there are no local cases, some horse owners seem to be erring on the side of caution.

Nathenson said her group received support for its decision to cancel the Surf and Sun Andalusian Horse Show.

“The entire group applauded us for understanding,” she said.

Janet Holden of the Del Mar Horsepark said the virus has not impacted hunter/jumper shows at the facility.

“Our horse shows are still going very strong,” she said.

Mac McBride, director of media for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said EHV-1 is not really an issue right now for the racing community. The Del Mar meet begins July 20.

“(The virus) has been isolated, and we haven’t heard much about it over the last few weeks, which is a great sign,” he said.

Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, pointed out that there’s not a lot of crossover between thoroughbreds and cutting horses.

“All of the horses who have come down with the virus have been in contact with cutting horses out of Ogden either directly or indirectly,” he said. “It’s not a big concern with the thoroughbreds.”

A lot of horses are housed individually at racetracks, which cuts down the exposure risk, Arthur said.

At this time, there are no reported incidents of EHV-1/EHM at Hollywood Park, he said, which is where the majority of horses who race at Del Mar are currently located.

Owners who suspect that their horse may have contracted the virus should call the CDFA Animal Health Branch Headquarters Office at (916) 654-1477 or the Ontario branch at (909) 947-4462.



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