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Gurnee equine virus outbreak has horse owners worried

Eliz13 year-old quarter horse gives veterinarian Norman Cornelius hug with Lori Weadley both ArlingtHeights Fields  Fences School Horsemanship Gurnee.

Eliza, a 13 year-old quarter horse, gives veterinarian Norman Cornelius a hug with Lori Weadley, both of Arlington Heights, at Fields and Fences School of Horsemanship in Gurnee. | Thomas Delany Jr~Sun-Times Media

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For more information go to, a Web site for the American Association of Equine Practitioners that has a tracker map showing the breakouts of EHV-1 across the country and, a Web site run by the Center for Equine Health at the University of California-Davis.

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Updated: March 19, 2013 7:36PM

A serious equine herpes virus has appeared at a local stable and has horse owners spooked by the outbreak.

Three horses at the Double W Stables on Washington Street in Gurnee had to be put down after contracting EHV-1, which struck a number of horses at Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero at the end of last year.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has issued quarantine for the Gurnee stable that doesn’t allow any animals to be taken in or out of the facility. The racetrack was quarantined from November to January and a number of horse had to be euthanized, said Jeff Squibb, spokesman for the agricultural department.

“The herpes virus is carried in horses like it is in people. One particular strain can cause neurological problems that cause severe symptoms, even death,” Squibb said Tuesday. “Horses are exposed to it at a young age and thy become carriers so to speak, and for various reasons it can become active. There is vaccine, but it is less effective against this strain.”

The state investigation has not been able to link the Gurnee outbreak with the race track or any other horse shows or equine events.

“It appears to be isolated to this location,” he said. “It’s called an endemic because from time to time you are going to have cases like this. It’s not unprecedented. It shouldn’t cause any alarm.”

What horse owners need to do is follow biological protocols, such as not sharing watering troughs, feed buckets, tack, grooming equipment,people’s hands or clothing between horses.

“It’s like the flu,” said Anita Schadeck of Fields and Fences of Gurnee, which canceled two horse shows this month, but is planning to have a scheduled event in April. But people will need a health certificate in order to participate.

“You just need to pay attention to bio-security,” she said. “You can’t let horse touch nose to nose. And if one comes down with symptoms then isolate it.”

Symptoms can include the upper respiratory infection resulting in depression, a snotty nose, loss of appetite and persistent cough. In rare cases adult horse develop the neurological form of the disease.

The Gurnee outbreak has Barrington area horse farms and riding facilities temporarily closed as a precautionary measure.

“From what we’ve heard from our customers, everyone’s pretty much on lockdown,” said Jim Konecny, owner of Lake Barrington Feed and Supply.

Due to the virus, Konecny has set up a footbath in his store with disinfectant that customers must use before entering.

“We’re aware of it and we’re doing what we can to prevent further outbreaks,” he said.

Fred McMorris, president of the Barrington Hills Park District, reported that the Park Board decided to temporarily close its riding center in response to the outbreak as well. Although no horses are kept overnight at the riding center, McMorris said the district is erring on the side of caution.

“This is very likely an isolated incident,” McMorris said of the Gurnee outbreak. “But because of the highly contagious nature of the virus, a lot of places are shutting down. We thought it was in the best interest of the community to temporarily close the center.”

Chris Downs, a veterinarian at Merritt & Associates Equine Hospital in Wauconda, explained that the airborne, highly contagious virus enters through the respiratory system and causes an increase in nasal discharge. Downs added that many horses that are infected with the respiratory form can be treated.

A rare but more severe form, however, begins with respiratory symptoms and later travels to the brain, causing neurological impairment. Difficulty with urination and bowel movements are signs of the neurological form of the virus.

“The horses will become very ataxic and have difficulty walking or standing,” said Downs.

Since horses can shed the virus in times of high stress, Downs recommended that horse owners use caution in moving horses in and out of facilities. There is no vaccine for the neurological form.

“The single best thing for horse owners to do is practice good hygiene,” said Downs.

Hand-washing and disinfecting with a water and bleach mixture is enough to kill the virus, he said.

“I would really stress the bio-security,” he said.

Downs said he’s noted an increase in cases across the country in recent years, but said he attributes the uptick to wider knowledge of the virus — not an increase in the virus itself.

“I think we as veterinarians are better trained to detect it,” he said.

Joe Carper, manager at Hill ’n’ Dale Farm, a thoroughbred breeding and foaling farm in Barrington, said he and his staff have been adhering to strict guidelines. He added that he is not accepting any new horses.

“There’s minimal movement and no horses that come and go,” said Carper. “Everyone’s pretty much isolated.”

The drastic measures have been necessary, Carper said, even though they have negatively impacted the farm’s breeding business.

Jennifer Rousseau, a trainer at Tudor Oaks Farm in Barrington Hills, said her facility also has limited the amount of horses in and out of the farm. Although Tudor Oaks was recently forced to cancel its participation in an upcoming horse show, Rousseau said the farm plans to resume normal operations very soon.

“We don’t see any risk of transmission from that outbreak,” she said. “We are now confident that the attending veterinarians have it isolated and quarantined.”

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