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SOUTH JORDAN — Multiple horse shows — one involving hundreds of participants — have voluntarily been canceled because of an uncommon outbreak of equine herpes, frequently fatal in the animals.
The National Cutting Horse Association said all of its approved shows for May 20-22 have been canceled by affiliates or show producers and other horse associations are voluntarily shutting down events to discourage the inter-state transportation of potentially infected horses.
Six horses from Utah County to Box Elder County are showing clinical symptoms of the new strain of the viral disease, which attacks the animals' central nervous system and can lead to death.
Suspicion that the highly contagious disease is making the rounds at corrals and stalls in Utah prompted the cancellation of a Memorial Day weekend event in Salt Lake County that draws hundreds of participants and is among the biggest in the region for paint horse enthusiasts.
"None of our members has it, but we canceled as a precaution. We'd rather err on the side of caution," said Carol Campbell, president of the Utah Paint Horse Club.
Highly contagious, the disease can be fatal to horses and is incurable. It is not transmitted to humans, but is spread horse-to-horse through nose contact and contaminated tack, equipment or clothing. Symptoms include fever, decreased coordination, nasal discharge, lethargy, inability to rise and leaning against a wall or fence to maintain balance.
The Utah Bureau of Land Management's premiere wild horse and burro adoption event slated for this weekend also has been canceled due the outbreak.
Gus Warr, head of the state program for the federal agency, said the risk is too great for the horses under the BLM's care or to visiting horses that were scheduled to come to Utah for the Friday and Saturday event. It has been rescheduled for Aug. 26-27.
The concern is the result of reports of several cases of the uncommon disease surfacing in horses from surrounding states that participated in the National Cutting Horse Association's Western National Championships in Ogden from April 29 to May 8.
Highly contagious, the disease can be fatal to horses and is incurable. It is not transmitted to humans, but is spread horse to horse through nose contact, contaminated tack, equipment or clothing.
Symptoms include fever, decreased coordination, nasal discharge, lethargy, inability to rise and leaning against a wall or fence to maintain balance.
State veterinarian Dr. Bruce King stressed horse owners need to know the disease is treatable and animals can recover if veterinarians are involved early on in medical treatments that include administration of anti-inflammatories.
"There's not a vaccine that will protect against this aberrant form of virus," he said, but "there is a treatment out there for it. If you can get the horse through the clinical phases of the disease … they will be normal again, for the most part."
The Utah Department of Agriculture is investigating cases of equine herpes virus (EHV-1) within the state.
King said he will recommend all events involving horses, burros and mules be canceled in Utah should any horses come down with the disease that were not at the cutting championships in Ogden.
Cases have been reported in nine states and in Canada, resulting in the quarantine of veterinary teaching hospitals in Fort Collins and Pullman, King said.
Many of the affected horses are worth tens of thousands of dollars.
"The horses that they've had to euthanize, these are horse that are extremely... they are professional athletes in their industry. They're worth a lot of money," King said. "The horse industry out there is extremely upset about this, and they are rightfully so."
A story in the Colorado's Greeley Tribune said two cases were confirmed in Weld County and six additional horses are showing signs of the disease. The confirmed cases involved a pair of horses that were in Ogden for the competition. One of the horses was euthanized, while another is showing signs of recovery, according to the paper.
Warr said the BLM is not taking any chances with the disease, which he says is extremely uncommon.
"I've been involved in the horse industry all of my life and with the BLM for over 20 years, and this is the first time I have ever had to deal with it," Warr said.