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Equine herpesvirus

Learn what the signs are, how it's transmitted, and prevention

Equine herpesvirus is highly-contagious disease among horses, donkeys, and mules. It’s spread by close contact, and causes respiratory infection, abortion, and neurological disease.

Becky Bott is an extension equine specialist at South Dakota State University. She says there are two strains of equine herpesvirus that account for the majority of infections, EHV-1, and EHV-4. One of the first signs that you’ll see in your animal is a fever.

"That usually proceeds other clinical signs," says Bott. "But you may see in the respiratory disease nasal discharge, coughing, abortions if it’s that strain can happen usually later on during pregnancy. In the neurologic disease you might see a lack of coordination, they might have inability to urinate regularly, and just a general unthriftyness in their ability to balance or stand normally."

Bott says if your horse develops a fever without any obvious reason, call your veterinarian. There is no cure, so infected animals are treated with supportive care for their symptoms. Unfortunately, the virus is sometimes more than the horse can handle.

You can reduce the risk with preventative vaccinations and staying away from infected animals.

"These vaccinations are targeted to help prevent the abortions and the respiratory diseases caused by EHV-1," says Bott. "Currently there’s not a vaccination on the market that is designed to prevent the neurologic symptoms. If there’s EHV-1 in the area, keeping your horses at home versus going out and mingling, or keeping horses where they are at the time of EHV-1 spreading around can help limit the exposure."

Cleanliness and disinfection of horse equipment will also help prevent spreading the disease.

Learn more about equine herpesvirus

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