by Laurel Scott
The outbreak of equine herpesvirus- 1 (EHV-1) that struck Florida in December aff ected its show, racing and polo communities, with a total of six deaths attributed to the neurological form of the virus at press time. It also prompted Maryland equestrians looking to compete on Florida’s winter circuits to postpone their travel plans.
At this writing, the worst of the outbreak appears to be over. During its critical stages, the state had quarantined 10 premises in Wellington, Morriston, Loxahatchee, Jupiter and Indiantown, with half of the quarantines occurring in the Wellington area. By Jan. 20, with no new cases reported since Dec. 29, all of these quarantines had been lifted.
In the wake of the outbreak, appropriate precautions were taken at Calder Race Course and Tampa Bay Downs. Many Florida polo clubs made adjustments to their play schedules. While some area horse shows were either canceled or postponed, Stadium Jumping Inc., which oversees several major series at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club in Wellington, extended its entry deadlines and issued strict protocols to ensure that its facilities stay virus-free. So, at press time, Maryland “snowbirds” who hadn’t opted to stay home or compete elsewhere were preparing to ship their horses to Florida as usual.
Needless to say, the precautions they should take once in Florida – and upon their return to Maryland – have been a hot topic of discussion.
At a Jan. 11 meeting of the Maryland Horse Industry Board’s new Equine Health Advisory Committee, The Equiery learned that the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has stayed informed about the Florida outbreak since, as state veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus put it, “the rumors fi rst hit the internet.”
As he explained, “We have spoken on several occasions to Wellington offi cials, the Florida state veterinarian’s offi ce, and others in that state with knowledge of events. I am fully satisfi ed that the Florida regulatory response is adequate at this time to protect Maryland equine health interests. Maryland retains the full range of regulatory options to address a deterioration in that situation. Deterioration which threatens Maryland is considered unlikely at this time, and any additional regulatory actions by this agency would impose an unnecessary and unproductive regulatory burden the equine industries, in particular those in Maryland.”
Here are Hohenhaus’ answers to some questions posed by members of the Maryland equestrian community:
Q. If a Maryland owner is determined to send his or her horse to Florida, what is Florida currently requiring in terms of health papers on incoming horses? What is the easiest way for people to fi nd out what Florida is requiring, particularly as it seems to be changing on an almost daily basis?
A: [It’s the] same as always. All this is on the Maryland Department of Agriculture Animal Health website. Florida permits, 850-410-0900; the United States Department of Agriculture 50 State Info, http://www.aphis.usda. gov/vs/sregs/; and Florida Animal Health, http://www.doacs.state. fl .us/ai/index.shtml.
Q: What should a Marylander do if his or her horse is stabled in Florida (or anywhere else) during an outbreak and he or she wants to bring the horse home? A: There is no additional requirement imposed by Maryland on horses with recent travel to Florida. A current [negative] Coggins (within one year) is still the standard for horse import to Maryland from Florida. If one is concerned, [one] may opt to obtain an interstate health certifi cate for the horse. If the horse is involved in a movement restriction imposed by Florida, then that state will dictate when movement can occur.
Q: What else can be done at the state level to ensure that suspect horses from Florida or any other aff ected state do not enter Maryland, or if they do, that they are properly handled and properly quarantined?
A: There is a decades-old system of movement documentation [that] works well. We are engaged in ongoing discussions with Florida to continuously update our risk assessment.
Q: Should Maryland stable owners/managers allow horses from Florida back into their facilities, and if so, under what circumstances?
A: As always, we ask owners to comply with law, regulation and common sense – and not knowingly expose healthy animals to infected or exposed animals. This includes common sense isolation of new arrivals to a facility and regular involvement of a veterinarian.
Q: Should Maryland stable owners require anything specific from the owners of horses returning from Florida?
A: They may want to ask additional questions concerning the travel history of the animals and whether there is any known or suspected contact with involved premises.
Q: How should Maryland stable owners/managers handle a horse that’s been in Florida once it arrives back in their barn? Does the MDA have any recommended protocols?
A: [We] recommend a minimum of two weeks’ segregation from resident animals (separate structure, minimum 40 feet from resident animals, including no fenceline contact [under] 40 feet).
Q: How can someone ensure that a horse that is being delivered to his or her facility – and that was picked up in, say, Georgia or South Carolina – did not travel with a horse from Florida?
A: One could, were the horse enrolled in National Animal Identifi cation and properly tagged with an RFID [radio frequency identifi cation].
Q: Are there any laws regulating the shipping companies and their practices with regard to EHV-1?
A: [Th ere are] no specifi c laws. Shippers are held to the same standards as an owner when moving animals both inter- and intrastate.
Q: When do you deem it safe for Marylanders to ship horses into Florida or any state where such an outbreak has occurred? What kinds of precautions should one take under those circumstances, and what kind of safeguards should one look for at any facility (private stable, clinic, showgrounds) receiving the horses?
A: We defer to Florida offi cials to manage aff airs of their state. It would be imprudent to ship an animal into a restricted facility, whether or not the facility was allowed to accept new arrivals. In cases where Florida offi cials have compartmentalized the movement restrictions – i.e., a fraction of barns on a facility- the decision toenter rests with the comfort level of the owner.
Q: Would there ever be a point at which Maryland would ban a horse from entering a state or a facility?
A: Maryland law does not provide for restricting movements of healthy/otherwise eligible animals into another state. Maryland can restrict movements across our borders, but an export restriction would be based on problems within our state. At the request of another state, we would assist in restricting movements to that state.
Q: If a Maryland stable owner is not able to provide any of the “best management practices” recommended by MDA, and therefore prohibits a Florida horse from unloading at his or her farm, where could that horse go?
A: That is an issue of private property, and the state has no jurisdiction unless animal health law has been violated or regulatory action is appropriate.
Q: Will there be any provisions made by the state for quarantining returning Florida horses?
A: [There are] no provisions at this time; no need for that contingency [is] anticipated. Were there a need to control movement across Maryland borders, it would be accomplished in an effective and expeditious manner by this agency. Rumors & Restrictions The MDA has monitored several suspected cases of equine herpes this winter. The cases occurred at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course and at two Baltimore County farms. A “Hold Order” was put on one of the farms as a precautionary measure, but that has since been released, and all of the test results from these cases have been negative. “We have restricted movement on several farms based on reasonable suspicion, but all have checked out clean thus far,” Hohenhaus explained. “We have also worked with several properties to address rumors of herpes in an informal fashion, when there has not been evidence sufficient to regulate.” On Jan. 20, the Maryland Jockey Club – whose facilities were impacted by the herpes virus last year – lifted the second of two bans this season on horses shipping in from Florida.
At press time, ANY horses shipping into MJC facilities were still required to have a health certificate dated within 72 hours of arrival with a rectal temperature and a veterinarian-signed certificate of inspection verifying that the horses represented on this certificate: a) had not originated from a barn with a confirmed or suspect case of herpes virus; b) had not shown signs suggestive of this disease; c) had not been febrile within the previous three weeks; d) had not originated from nor been stabled on a premises under quarantine or restriction due to EHV-1 or from a facility that had herpes virus diagnosed during the previous 30- day period; and e) and had been vaccinated against EHV-1 no less than seven days and no greater than 90 days beforehand.