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Horse Community Returning to Normal

State veterinarian says equestrian community may resume normal activities.

Almost a month after the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services quarantined Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Center at Morven Park in Leesburg following reports of the equine herpes virus (EHV-1), the state veterinarian has announced that the all non-quarantined facilities in the horse community could resume all canceled events.

Dr. Richard Wilkes announced Tuesday, March 15, that public auctions and sales, which were put on hiatus at the beginning of the month, along with shows, fox hunts and trail rides, which could have spread the virus, could safely begin.

"Virginia's horse community really stepped up to the plate and did the responsible thing," Wilkes said, "and their actions helped us contain the virus to the premises where the horses had contact with the [virus]."

EHV-1 IS ONE of several strains of the equine herpes virus, a highly contagious disease that can cause respiratory signs, prenatal infection, abortion, inflammation of the brain. This strain of herpes virus is not transmissible to humans, but can be transferred between horses through nasal fluids and bodily secretions. Symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, loss of balance and recumbency, or lying down.

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Center has been under quarantine since Feb. 20 and three horses at the center had tested positive for EHV-1 by the end of the month. In total six horses in Virginia tested positive for the disease.

On Feb. 7, a horse that had been brought to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center for an unrelated emergency developed a fever and symptoms of the nervous disease, Dr. Nathaniel A. White II, the Jean Ellen Shehan professor and director of the equine center, said. The horse was immediately isolated, the doctor said, and tested positive for EHV-1 Feb. 16.

The morning of Feb. 20 two more horses at the veterinary hospital began to show neurological symptoms, leading the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to order quarantine beginning that day.

White said that up to 70 percent of horses can carry the virus in their system without showing any symptoms and the disease is difficult to eliminate because of its dormant nature.

"Most of the treatment is symptomatic treatment, until the virus runs its course," White said at the time of the quarantine. "But this [neurological] form is actually rare in horses. It can actually be fatal."

WHILE WILKES SAID quarantined facilities may not resume any normal activities, the Leesburg hospital is already planning for its reopening. Friday, March 16, the center announced that quarantined horses are being released from three of the four biosecurity isolation perimeters established at the hospital.

"There are only two horses left in isolation," White said. "They will remain there until we get our test results."

White said that they hope to have the results of the latest round of tests by next week and that there have been no cases of the virus at the hospital.

"We believe at that time we will be able to clear all of our horses," he said.

While the hospital's quarantine will not be lifted until Wilkes gives his approval and all the horses are cleared, White said the hospital hopes to reopen by the last week of March.

"Of course, that is always subject to change," he said.

In the meantime, center employees are working on cleaning and disinfecting the hospital to prevent future incidents. White said the cleansing process is the routine disinfecting process used by the hospital, but the protocol has been sent to the state veterinarian and received Wilkes' approval.

White said all test results will be posted on the hospital's Web site as they are received.