Horses in Galveston County test positive for herpes virus

Saturday, February 7, 2015
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Two horses have died from a sometimes lethal strain of the herpes virus. Three other deaths may be linked to the virus as well

SANTA FE, TX (KTRK) -- Two horses in Galveston County have died from a sometimes lethal strain of the herpes virus. Their deaths have been confirmed by medical testing and reported to the state. Three other deaths may be linked to the virus as well.

All the horses infected appear to have come from two boarding stables in or near Dickinson. Both stables are now under quarantine, which affects about 20 horses kept there, according to the vet, whose clinic stables are also under quarantine.

None of the animals in quarantine have tested positive for the virus, according to Dr Dennis Jenkins, whose clinic stables were ordered quarantined by the Texas Department of Animal Health two days ago. Jenkins suspects as many as 10 more suspected cases in a rare outbreak of the Equine Herpes Virus 1, or EHV1.

Horses, like humans, carry the herpes virus. It's unknown why the more virulent EHV1 strain develops, but it's often in young horses, and begins with a respiratory infection. It can progress to the nerve system, and eventually cause swelling of the brain.

The virus is spread through nasal discharge and secretions, from horse to horse. It poses no threat to human, Jenkins says.

Two of his own horses are among those exposed to the virus and in quarantine.

"We're checking their temperature twice a day. If it gets between 102 degrees and 105, then there is cause for concern," Jenkins says.

Neither of his horses, or any of those being treated for other ailments have shown signs of infection.

It's believed to be the first time the virus has been diagnosed in this part of Texas. There have been cases elsewhere in the state.

Jenkins is calling for calm among concerned horse owners, in a county where horses are often pets as well as riding companions.

"I'm sensing some fear. What's needed is for people to get the facts," she said.

To that end, a town hall meeting will be held Sunday afternoon at the Galveston County Fairgrounds at Jack Books park. A representative from the USDA will attend, and representatives from the Texas Department of Animal Health. Dr Jenkins will be there as well to separate fact from fiction regarding the virus.

For now, his clinic stables will remain quarantined for three weeks, as well as the boarding stables. The state is tracking where each horse has been- whether it was taken elsewhere in the state, and the animals it may have come in contact with.

Asked whether it could affect trailride season in advance of the Houston Livestock Show, Jenkins replied, "that's a good question."