KALISPELL - The Montana Department of Livestock recommends canceling all equine events in the Flathead after four horses were euthanized for Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1). While the virus is common in horses it can mutate into a more severe virus called EHM. EHM can cause severe neurological and respiratory disease in horses and is often fatal.
The horse virus is affecting local businesses including the Majestic Valley Arena where staff told MTN that it's adversely affecting their business and they are losing money from canceling events. However, they say they are willing to do what it takes to keep horses safe and healthy.
We also spoke to a local equine vet about the virus and what it could mean for the future. While Equine Herpes Virus is a common respiratory illness in horses where the symptoms mimic those of a cold in a human, the concern with this strain of the virus is it can be fatal.
“There is one version of the virus that can create what we call EHM which is equine herpes myeloencephalopathy, which could create neurological disease and cause horses to have paralysis. So it's something that we have in the horse community we've had respiratory outbreaks here. We've had other forms of the virus but recently we've had the myeloencephalopathy, which is a little bit more serious,“ explained La Salle Equine Clinic veterinarian Bob Genovese.
It is unclear how this variation of the virus got to the Flathead, but it is possible that it was brought in from out of state. EHM can be so severe that a family may lose their horse.
“The hard thing is, is when somebody loses a horse, it's really devastating to the family, especially when there's kids involved,” said Genovese.
While veterinarians don’t expect any long-term impacts from this outbreak of EHM, action must be taken to mitigate the spread.
“And so to mitigate this, the spread of it, is just to try to not co-mingle as much, which is hard for the horse community because they love to co-mingle. So it's tough. But I think is I think we just need to kind of let things kind of quiet down and it will in a matter of time. Two to three weeks is the incubation period of the virus. So once we have no new cases, then we can start ramping up our events again." - La Salle Equine Clinic veterinarian Bob Genovese
The upcoming Brash Winter Series Rodeo which was scheduled for Feb. 3 and Feb. 4 has been canceled due to the virus outbreak.