Horse owners critical of state's handling of equine viral outbreak
Posted January 2, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Area horse owners said Thursday that they are upset about the way state veterinary officials handled a recent outbreak of a rare virus at a north Raleigh stable.
J&H Stables is closed and under quarantine after four horses there were diagnosed with Equine Herpesvirus-1 and subsequently euthanized. The contagious disease causes respiratory infection and neurological problems.
Horse owners said they feel accurate and necessary information about the outbreak didn't reach them in a timely basis. Many said they didn't find out about the outbreak for days after the state confirmed it on Dec. 27.
"It made me angry we weren't informed," said Annette Kenny, who coaches a competitive equestrian vaulting team.
Kenny's team usually practices on her property, but she has closed her operation down for at least two weeks.
"I don't want anyone near my horses that may have had interaction with other horses," she said. "At this point, we don't know how many infections ... there will be. Everybody is just scared and panicked right now."
Dr. Tom Ray, director of animal health programs for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said officials immediately notified equine boards and committees and alerted a distribution list of equine veterinarians about the outbreak. Postings on the department's website and Facebook page didn't appear for another three days, however.
"We really, honestly, make an effort to get that out and try to do it in all means possible," Ray said. "We didn't have confirmation (of an outbreak), but we went ahead and set quarantine, not knowing what we were dealing with."
Despite the concerns of horse owners, Ray said he believes the virus is under control.
"“We haven’t had a fever at the barn for over a week now and no clinical signs,” he said. "We're really confident and feel safe that things have run their course."
"If everyone's confident, then all the better, but for me it's wait and see," Kenny said.
J&H Stables will remain under quarantine for 28 days after the last fever is recorded to ensure no other horses are exposed to the virus.
It's unclear where the virus originated because it can spread through riding equipment, common water bowls and food buckets. Humans can transmit it through their shoes or clothing.
"It’s really animal-to-animal contact, primarily,” said Ray, who compared EHV-1 to a cold in humans. "The risk decreases dramatically when you get away from animal-to-animal contact or the inanimate objects that is coming in direct contact with nasal secretions.”
EHV-1 is often fatal because it cannot be treated. Symptoms include fever and neurological issues, such as lack of coordination and loss of balance.
The last known outbreak in North Carolina of this strain of the virus was two years ago. The illness affects only horses.
"I've had enough horses die that, believe me, it's the worst thing in the world," said Jimmy Lynn of Raleigh. "I don't want anything like that happening to any of my animals."