A few horses have been identified with neurological equine herpes virus this year in the west of the country. Sporadic cases are not uncommon in the UK so this in itself is not that unusual. However, the proximity (in both time and location) to a major equestrian event has raised the profile of these cases and consequently there will be an article in tomorrow’s Horse and Hound discussing equine herpes virus. The cases that have been identified in the west have been isolated and all appropriate measures have been taken to control any disease spread.
An article in this week’s Horse and Hound aims to provide a balanced discussion of the exceedingly complicated issues surrounding equine herpes virus but above all we would advise you not to panic and to call us if you would like to discuss the situation on your yard specifically. Although the disease can be very serious and should not be taken lightly, the risk to horses in our area currently is thankfully very low.
Naturally, many people are keen to provide as much protection as possible for their horses and are asking about vaccination. Currently the vaccine for equine herpes virus is not available but importation of further vaccine stocks is planned so vaccination may become an option in the near future. The vaccine is designed to prevent abortion in broodmares but can be used to reduce the risk of the other forms of the disease i.e. respiratory infection and neurological signs (the latter being the most serious). The vaccine does not offer complete protection to the individual but may reduce the severity of disease and reduces the amount of virus that is spread if a horse becomes infected and thereby reduces the risk to other horses. The vaccine is very safe so in situations where there are broodmares or large numbers of horses coming and going then the costs may be outweighed by the potential benefits. Other than cost, there is a suggestion that vaccination may (and this is a very controversial point) increase the risk of neurological disease if the horse is already infected. As there have not been any outbreaks in our area this is not a concern currently.