NRCHA Derby Preps Against Equine Herpes Virus

The Paso Robles Event Center is ready for the National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby with a tough biosecurity protocol.

From the National Reined Cow Horse Association

Kelby Phillips rode Hickory Holly Time to the 2014 NRCHA Derby open championship for owners Garth and Amanda Gardiner. The 2015 NRCHA Derby kicks off June 15 in Paso Robles, California. (Credit: NRCHA)

In recent weeks, new cases of equine herpes virus type-1 have made headlines in several states, including California. Strict biosecurity protocol at the Paso Robles Event Center, home of the upcoming National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby June 15 - 20, minimizes the risk of EHV-1 and other equine illnesses at the NRCHA's largest premier event for 4- and 5-year-old horses.

EHV-1 is a contagious virus which can cause respiratory disease, abortion, and occasionally neurologic disease. 

The Paso Robles Event Center has never had a neurologic EHV-1 case, according to the facility's CEO, Vivian Robertson. She said the PREC has "religiously" used the agricultural disinfectant SynBioNT since 2011, when EHV-1 concerns prompted the NRCHA to move the Derby from its customary June date in Paso Robles to an October date in Queen Creek, Arizona.
"The Paso Robles Event Center does everything that we can to try to eliminate the virus from even starting here. SynBioNT is a very strong product, and it's costly for us, but we take extreme measures because because we care about our partners. Whether it be the NRCHA, the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association, the National Stock Horse Association – we feel like we're in partnership with you, and we want to have a clean environment. We're going to go above and beyond to keep that virus out of here," Robertson said.
The entire facility is sprayed thoroughly between events, including the stalls, barns and common areas where horses congregate while warming up and waiting to show. Exhibitors will see signage confirming that the stalls and grounds have been treated with SynBioNT, Robertson said.
"When one show goes out, and before another one comes in, we spray. I have already instructed my maintenance supervisor to spray all of the portable stalls that are coming in for the Derby," she said.
National Reined Cow Horse Association veterinarian Joe Carter, DVM, noted that EHV-1 is nothing new – he's seen it throughout his 30 years of veterinary practice – but social media has called greater attention to it in recent years. Common sense and simple prevention are effective weapons against the disease, he said.
"Anything that we consider standard biosecurity measures helps to control EHV-1. All the major horse show facilities disinfect, but it doesn't hurt to do another little round, whether it's Clorox or Pine-sol or some other disinfectant you buy from your feed store or your vet. Cleaning and disinfecting your stalls is always good, because there are other diseases we're trying to prevent, like flu and strangles. Bring your own clean and disinfected feed and water tubs, and disinfect bits between horses," Dr. Carter said.
While there is no specific, approved vaccine against EHV-1, Carter said the consensus in the veterinary community is that keeping horses current on their flu/rhinopneumonitis vaccines does help them fight off the virus.
"Make sure your horse has booster shots, make sure you disinfect, make sure you go to events that do disinfect their facilities, like they do in Paso Robles. These are all measures you can take to make sure your horse stays healthy," he said.
Dr. Carter and Robertson both urged exhibitors to evaluate their horses' health before traveling to the Derby or any other event.
"If your horse looks like it's getting sick when you're getting ready to go to the horse show, obviously you don't want to haul them sick. A little common sense goes a long way toward keeping horses healthy," Dr. Carter said.

FAQ: Equine Herpes Virus Type-1
From the American Association of Equine Practitioners

What is equine herpes virus?
EHV are viruses that are found in most horses all over the world. Almost all horses have been infected with the virus and have no serious side effects. It is unknown what causes some horses to develop the serious neurological forms that may be fatal. To date, nine EHVs have been identified worldwide. Three of these – EHV-1, EHV-3 and EHV-4 – pose the most serious health risks for domesticated horses. Equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy (EHM) is another name for the neurologic disease associated with equine herpesvirus (EHV) infections.
How does EHV-1 spread?
EHV-1 is contagious and spread by direct horse-to-horse contact via the respiratory tract through nasal secretions. This disease can also be spread indirectly through contact with physical objects contaminated with the virus, such as water buckets, tack, trailers, etc. The virus can be airborne, although it is difficult to establish how far it can spread in this manner. It is estimated to be viable for up to seven days in the environment under normal circumstances, but may remain alive for a maximum of one month under perfect environmental conditions.
What are some of the signs of EHV?
After infection, incubation period may be as short as 24 hours. Incubation is typically 4-6 days, but can be longer. EHV-1 typically causes a biphasic (two-phase) fever, peaking on day one or two, and again on day six or seven. With respiratory infections there is often nasal discharge, but not much coughing. With the neurologic form there are typically minimal respiratory signs, with fever (rectal temperature greater than 102 degrees F) being the only warning sign. Neurologic disease appears suddenly and is usually rapidly progressing, reaching its peak intensity within 24 to 48 hours from onset of neurologic signs. Clinical signs of the neurologic disease may include nasal discharge, incoordination, hind limb weakness, loss of tail tone, lethargy, urine dribbling, head tilt, difficulty balancing and inability to rise.