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Outbreak of deadly equine virus has horse owners on edge

January 26, 2012 | 10:27 pm

An outbreak of a deadly virus has horse trainers and owners in Riverside and Orange counties fearful for the health of their animals.

On Tuesday, a horse at the Empire Polo Club in Indio was euthanized because of complications from equine herpes virus-1. At Rancho Sierra Vista in San Juan Capistrano, 16 cases of the disease have been identified since Jan. 11 and one horse had to be euthanized.

Both sites have been placed under quarantine and are being monitored by state veterinarians, and the polo club has suspended all events. No horses are allowed to leave or enter either property, and caretakers must take sanitary precautions.

EHV-1 causes coldlike symptoms and a high fever, then progresses to inflammation of blood vessels in the spinal cord and brain, resulting in muscle weakness and, in severe cases, paralysis of the hind limbs. Prognosis for horses that can remain standing is usually good but very poor for those that can’t. Some horses can carry the virus without getting sick, while others can die in as little as 24 hours.

The disease, which is spread by close contact and contaminated equipment, sent equestrians into a flurry last May, when it spread from an event in Utah to nine other states, including California.

Managers at Rancho Sierra Vista declined to comment about the outbreak, but David Provence, a manager at Sycamore Trails Stables, which is next door, said his facility canceled a show last weekend because of the outbreak.

“Nobody would want to come to a horse show with that disease that close by,” he said.

Provence is worried that the horses at his stable could get the virus, which has an incubation period of roughly two to 10 days. “Luckily, so far, no one has shown any symptoms,” he said. “It’s still a knocking-on-wood type of deal.”

Several stables throughout the Southland have instituted voluntary quarantines, forbidding new horses from entering and not allowing any horse that leaves back in until the outbreak is contained.

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-- Nicole Santa Cruz in Orange County

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