Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

All clear at the Bowie Training Center

Horse tests negative for equine herpes virus

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Horse racing trainers at the Bowie Training Center breathed a sigh of relief Friday after tests came back negative for a horse suspected of having the neurological form of the equine herpes virus.

The disease brought the Maryland racing industry to a halt two years ago when it popped up at stables around the area and resulted in the euthanization of six horses.

The horse in question was isolated Jan. 22 when it had difficulty standing upright, one of the symptoms of the neurological form of the disease, said Guy Hohenhaus, Maryland Department of Agriculture’s state veterinarian. The horse was immediately removed from Barn 7 to undergo tests while the 18 other horses stabled in Barn 7 were restricted from the center’s common grounds while blood and nasal swab samples were analyzed.

Equine herpes virus is a fairly common disease in its basic form that causes upper respiratory infections. However the more severe neurological form can lead to death. Local outbreaks in the past several years have typically hit in January.

Although this time was a false alarm, longtime local trainers say they have seen the frequency of outbreaks on the rise in the past several years.

‘‘It’s the kind of thing we seem to go through every year now,” said Linda Gaudet, a trainer for 30 years with 30 horses at the Bowie Training Center.

The increase in frequency could be attributed to the greater distances horses now travel to compete or the 2005 state law that requires notification of syndromatic symptoms to the Department of Agriculture, Hohenhaus said.

‘‘It certainly happened 20 years ago because I learned about it in school,” he said. ‘‘But more horses in more places, moving around more often would argue for more disease.”

There is still a lot of speculation about how the equine herpes virus spreads and mutates into its neurological form, Hohenhaus said.

That was all the more reason to keep the horse community aware of potential outbreaks. Hohenhaus said the symptom alert law was introduced as a proactive approach to minimize the horse population effected

‘‘We followed the appropriate procedures and we are obviously relieved with the outcome,” said Maryland Jockey Club president Chris Dragone. ‘‘We are pleased that the system worked and that everybody worked together so well.”

In the past, when the virus has been detected in Maryland, out-of-state racetracks have banned Maryland horses, stripping trainers of their livelihood during the period.

Croom trainer Leonard Downs keeps his horses on his own farm in south county. However, he remembers being banned from racing for three weeks during the 2006 outbreak.

‘‘When it happens, out-of-state tracks won’t let you ship there,” said Downs, who races mostly in West Virginia. ‘‘If they quarantine the horses it’s your livelihood.”

With no abnormalities observed in any of the other 18 horses stabled in Barn 7, they are all free to return to track grounds and resume workouts.

‘‘We were happy with the process,” said Maryland Racing Commission veterinarian David Zipf. ‘‘Because we know the virus is out there and we have learned that most of the outbreaks happen during the winter, we are better prepared than ever to identify the virus and respond quickly.”

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