Warning issued after New Jersey horse contracts herpes

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TRENTON, NJ – One horse has been euthanized and others are in quarantine after being diagnosed with herpes in Hunterdon County. Contact tracers have been mobilized to see how many other horses may have been in contact with the infected horse.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has quarantined a property in Hunterdon County after one horse developed the highly infectious equine herpes myeloencephalopathy (EHM).  The horse, a 30-year-old mare, developed clinical signs on August 08, 2021, and was subsequently humanely euthanized. EHM is the often-deadly neurologic form of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1) infection. Other horses on the premises are under quarantine. Temperatures are also being taken twice daily on all quarantined horses to monitor for sickness. The NJDA is tracing and notifying the appropriate parties regarding recent horse movement.

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“The Department took swift action to prevent the disease from spreading to other horses by enacting a quarantine, which stops movement of horses in and out of the properties and puts in place preventive measures to contain the virus,” New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said.

The EHV-1 organism spreads quickly from horse to horse and can cause respiratory problems, especially in young horses, spontaneous abortions in pregnant mares, and the neurologic form of the virus can result in death.  The incubation period of EHV-1 is typically 2-10 days. Clinical signs include respiratory disease, fever, nasal discharge, depression, cough, lack of appetite, and/or enlarged lymph nodes. In horses infected with the neurologic strain of EHV-1, clinical signs typically include mild incoordination, hind end weakness/paralysis, loss of bladder and tail function, and loss of sensation to the skin in the hind end. The virus spreads readily through direct contact with infected materials. The virus is endemic in the country and although highly infectious, it does not persist in the environment for an extended period and is neutralized by hand soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers and sunlight. The virus does not affect humans and other domestic animals, except for llamas and alpacas.

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The NJDA Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory is available to assist veterinarians with the EHV-1 testing. For contact information, please visit the lab website: www.jerseyvetlab.nj.gov. Concerned owners should consult with their veterinarian prior to taking any action as the clinical signs of infection with the neurological form of EHV-1 (EHM) are common to many other diseases. EHM is a reportable disease in New Jersey.  If an owner has a horse exhibiting neurologic signs or suspects Equine Herpes, they are directed to call their veterinarian immediately.