Saskatchewan

Equine herpes can kill, Sask. vet says

A Saskatchewan veterinarian whose own horses were hit by equine herpes is warning the public about the potentially fatal threat to their animals.

A Saskatchewan veterinarian whose own horses were hit by equine herpes is warning the public about the potentially fatal threat to their animals.

Trish Dowling, who teaches veterinary pharmacology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon said the virus infected eight of her family's horses and her son's pony had to be put down.

In 32 years of caring for horses, she has never seen anything like it, she said.

The symptoms were baffling at first. Some ran fevers, others got wobbly, a couple had inflamed eyes. She considered colic, West Nile fever, even rabies, before finally realizing what was going on.

"It can kill anybody's horse, if it killed our pony like that," she said.

While some horses recover with few problems, the disease can leave horses permanently damaged, or it can be fatal. Treatments, including antiviral drugs, are typically expensive.

The virus is transmitted through several means, including aerosol droplets from coughing, and horses touching muzzles. It can cause respiratory illness, neurological problems and abortions. The virus can't be transmitted to humans. 

An outbreak was first noticed in Saskatchewan earlier this year.

Part of the problem in controlling the spread is the difficulty of tracking the virus, Dowling said.

"If something like this can be made reportable, we can at least track where it's going," she said. "I certainly think that [in] the horse research community, this has got to be priority one."

Dowling is urging horse owners to learn as much as they can about the virus.

Horse owners met in Saskatoon on Wednesday night to discuss what they can do to minimize the risk of infection on their farms and acreages.

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