Equine herpes virus forces cancellation of horse show

PORT TOWNSEND — A highly contagious and potentially fatal equine herpes virus that has been found in at least six states has forced the cancellation of the Jefferson County Open Horse Show on May 28.

While there are no confirmed cases on the North Olympic Peninsula, horse experts are recommending the temporary quarantine of equine animals such as horses and mules.

Equine herpes virus, or EHV-1, is spread through nasal secretions by nose-to-nose contact when horses nuzzle each other. It can be fatal to horses, but it can’t infect humans.

“I do think that this virus is a universal threat, if you will, to horses,” said Pamela Roberts, Washington State University Extension director in Jefferson County.

“I think that anybody who owns a horse out here in Jefferson County should seriously consider quarantining their animals, at least for the next three to four weeks.”

The largest equestrian events on the Peninsula are the Clallam and Jefferson County fairs, both of which are in August.

“We don’t have anything coming up right away,” said Clallam County Extension Director Gena Royal.

“The whole idea of canceling is just a preventative thing. If we can keep horses from congregating for a while, hopefully it will die out, and we won’t have a problem.

“We’re not in a panic mode, but we’re trying to play it safe.”

People can pass the virus from horse to horse through contaminated clothing and saddles.

EHV-1 causes weakness in the hind legs, decreased coordination, nasal discharge and fever. Severely infected horses have to be euthanized.

“They should not have contact with people who’ve been out traveling around and whatnot because apparently, this virus can be transported on items other than just the horses themselves,” Roberts said.

“It’s really easily transferred.”

Reuters reported Wednesday that the virus has canceled scores of events in at least six Western states.

Pat BoyEs, director of the statewide WSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program, issued formal instructions to Extension offices Thursday to cancel all equine activities where animals are gathered together through June 11.

“By that time, we hope the spread of the virus will have stopped,” said BoyEs, who works at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center.

Non-equestrian 4-H events are not affected.

Betty Mysak of the Jefferson County 4-H Horse Program announced the cancellation of the horse show, which was scheduled at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, in an email this week.

BoyEs said there are three confirmed cases of EHV-1 in Washington state — one in Pullman, one in the Wenatchee area and one in Snohomish County.

“When you think about the thousands of horses we have, that isn’t very many,” BoyEs said.

All three of the horses confirmed to have the virus were among 34 horses from Washington state at a National Cutting Horse Association event early this month in Ogden, Utah, where the disease apparently spread.

Jason Kelly, Washington Agriculture Department spokesman, said blood samples from three more horses are being tested.

Two horses in Oregon have tested positive for the virus. Both were at the horse show in Utah, Oregon state officials said.

Earlier this week, a Clackamas County, Ore., horse tested positive for the virus.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Posse is pulling out of Saturday’s Armed Forces Day Parade in Bremerton because of the risk.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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