An Encounter With EHV-1

AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning recognized the symptoms of equine herpes virus and was able to save his three horses.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

“Truth is, I think most people are really being cautious,” says AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning, a cutting trainer from Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Being overly cautious has saved Al’s three horses who contracted equine herpes virus-1 while at the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships April 29 - May 8 in Ogden, Utah. 

Equine herpesvirus-1 myeloencephalopathy is another name for the neurologic disease associated with equine herpesvirus infections, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Neurological signs appear as a result of damage to blood vessels in the brain and spinal cord associated with EHV infection. Interference with the blood supply leads to tissue damage and a subsequent loss in normal function of areas in the brain and spinal cord. The disease is not transferable to humans.

Al took 11 horses to the Western Nationals, but only three showed signs of EHV-1.

“I showed starting on the 29th of April, all the way through to the 8th of May, with no sick horses, no repercussions, no anything, other than some soundness issues, which is inherent in taking that many horses to the show,” Al says.  “I didn’t really have any idea that this thing would happen.

“My horses came back from Ogden on Sunday, (May 8), and Monday, so it was about five days before we had any outbreak,” he says. “A few days later, I believe it was Thursday, I heard that Mike Wood, who used to work for me, took a horse to Bakersfield, California, and that horse died over there. 

“It was, at that time, brought to our attention that it might be the virus that was prevalent in other kinds of horses in the past, including racehorses and hunter-jumpers, called the EHV-1 virus. That particular virus starts out with a temperature, sometimes a mild temperature, 101.5 to 102 even, and if you don’t catch it, it turns into other problems, such as a horse getting kind of wobbly, imbalanced, not very attentive, not being bright looking, that won’t lead as well, that drips from the urinary tract. So those were the signs that we had heard, so at that time, we started temping horses and then started closing things down. 

“After the show, I came home and started a clinic here in Arizona – I call it my Masters Clinic – and I had people come in from all over the place. My clinic was over on Saturday, (May 14),and on Saturday afternoon, we found three horses all pretty much at the same time that had had a really mild temperature but it was nothing – normally you wouldn’t even notice it – except for we were temping the horses, and when we led these horses, they were wobbly. We isolated those horses immediately and called the vet and closed this place down.”

Al says during his clinic, the three horses who later showed symptoms of EHV-1 were never taken out of the stalls and did not have contact with other horses on the property.

“Luckily, they had been isolated enough, since this is called a heavy virus, meaning that it doesn’t just fly through the air and jump over a fence to go get somebody. Sixty feet is the recommended isolation area, and we took those horses immediately and isolated them in another barn.”

After the sick horses were isolated, Al says their original stalls were immediately stripped and sterilized with two kinds of specially recommended cleaning fluids.

“Those three horses started being treated on Saturday evening with fluids, with DMSO, Banamine, aspirin once a day, some vitamins – they suggested Vitamin E and omega 3 – and Valtrex, which is a herpes virus drug for humans. We went all around the neighborhood and found those pills at all the drug stores and gathered those up, crushed them and gave them to (the horses) orally.

And already Al can see an improvement in his horses.

“Our horses, within two days, were looking better, but on the third day, they looked remarkably better, and today (Wednesday, May 18,) would be the fourth day, and those horses are incredibly better, to the point where we think that if a normal person would look at them and watch them move, they wouldn’t even know that they had a problem. We consider ourselves some of the lucky ones because we were right on it.”

Al is practicing responsible herd management to protect not only his own horses, but also the rest of the equine community.

“It’ll be 30 days before those (sick) horses are moved. That’s what’s recommended, so we’re being more careful than we possibly can be about it. Obviously, we’re playing this day by day. Everything is on lockdown for a 21-day period. That’s according to everything we’ve studied and read, that that’s the right way to do it – no horses in and no horses out.” 

But the virus won’t be an issue for just the cutting-horse industry, Al predicts.

“Don’t show, don’t go. My advice is to stay on lockdown everywhere. Just to be cautious, you never know,” he says. 

“In Ogden, I roped at a roping up there. They had lots of rope horses there and horses tied all over the place, and I had my horse there that was at the (cutting) horse show. I roped on him and did real well at the roping. Well, that’s one of the horses that did get sick. That’s outside the cutting barn. So let’s say that those (rope) horses went home, and they got around barrel-racing horses, and those horses went to the next barrel race. So you can see it perpetuating itself and mutating, so you would think that if people were going to be wise and were anywhere that there could be even the slimmest possibility that they would stay on lockdown for a 21-day period.”

Al’s advice is simple: “Nobody should panic; they should be logical and consult a veterinarian.”

With that said, if you are concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your personal or your state’s veterinarian. If you’re registered for a show in the next few weeks, contact that show’s management to see if the show is still going to be held.

To help ease AQHA Select exhibitors’ minds and proactively help professionals and exhibitors make educated decisions, the AQHA Executive Committee has opted to lower qualifying points for the Adequan Select World Championship Show. The decision to lower the points was a result of the timing of the May 31 qualifying deadline for the Adequan Select and the recently reported cases of equine herpes virus-1 myeloencephalopathy in the western United States. The Adequan Select is August 28 - September 3 in Amarillo. 

Also, as a precautionary measure, AQHA and the National Cutting Horse Association have jointly agreed to support show managers’ decisions to voluntarily cancel dual-approved cutting events this weekend (May 20-22). In addition, AQHA will work with its show managers who choose to voluntarily cancel an entire show or cutting classes that are being offered at AQHA-approved shows this weekend. This affects a total of approximately 90 shows. There is no mandatory requirement from AQHA that a show cancel, and the Association is working with state veterinary offices and industry professionals to draft some guidelines that show management can use, given concerns over the EHV-1 virus. 

In light of the outbreak, many veterinary clinics are offering EHV-1 educational seminars, so don’t hesitate to equip yourself with as much information as possible.