April 2006
by Laurel Scott

Two months after the initial outbreak of the equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) that resulted in the euthanization of six Maryland horses, the virus appears to have run its course.

The last horses to test negative for EHV-1 were stabled at the Fair Hill Training Center. Ten of these had previously tested positive for the virus, but never developed the dangerous neurologic symptoms that sometimes occur with this disease. When Fair Hill’s “all-clear” came on March 9, the Maryland Department of Agriculture was at last able to declare the state free of active reported cases of EHV-1. The previous day, test results on two horses isolated in Pimlico’s Detention Barn and two Laurel horses isolated at Bowie had come back negative. This prompted the lifting of the final Hold Orders at Maryland’s racetracks, which had lost four horses to the virus. The Hold Order on the Worton (Eastern Shore) farm that had lost two event horses was released on March 4.

In the wake of this crisis, the Maryland Department of Agriculture has issued a new reporting requirement for Maryland veterinarians on so-called “Equine Neurologic Syndrome.”

Under Maryland law (Agriculture Article, Section 3-105 Annotated Code of Maryland) veterinarians are required to report immediately to the secretary of agriculture (in practice, the state veterinarian acting on behalf of the secretary of agriculture) any contagious and infectious disease among livestock or poultry of which he/she has knowledge.

As of March 1, the list of reportable diseases includes “Equine Neurologic Syndrome,” which the MDA defines as “equine neurologic disease likely caused by an infectious process (not by developmental problems, trauma or toxic situations) consistent with rabies, equine herpesvirus, viral encephalitidies such as West Nile, Eastern and Western Equine and others. Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis is not a primary disease of interest in this reporting requirement, although it is likely to meet the clinical definition [that] will trigger reporting.”

According to the MDA’s March 3 press release, “The purpose of requiring this syndromic reporting is to enable the Maryland Department of Agriculture to make a clinical and epidemiologic assessment in the most timely manner possible and take action appropriate to the specific situation. The reporting requirement needs no laboratory documentation, only a veterinary clinical diagnosis of central nervous system involvement.

“Reports should be made to the office of the state veterinarian at 410-841-5810 as soon as practical after identifying equine neurologic syndrome in a horse.Veterinarians should prioritize this reporting as an urgent matter.Same day reporting should be the norm.”

A full list of reportable diseases in Maryland is available online at www.equiery.com.

Advisory Committee Up & Running
The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, but they do move, so long as the citizens of the state continue to demand it.

After the 2004 herpes outbreak, the Maryland Horse Council and the Maryland Department of Agriculture, via the state veterinarians and the Maryland Horse Industry Board, formed a task force for the creation of a standing Equine Health Advisory Committee. What follows is an excerpt from the memo submitted to the secretary of agriculture in April of 2005:

The equestrian community received a wonderful opportunity from the Maryland Department of Agriculture to be an active participant in the creation of a standing Maryland Equine Health Advisory Committee. Both the task force and the resulting committee are outstanding examples of the positive results of a partnership between private industry and interests and public officials and interests, and we hope that this will serve as a model for future such partnerships.

The task force has created a solid blueprint for the creation of an effective MHIB Equine Health Advisory Committee. The purpose of the Equine Health Advisory Committee is to represent the concerns of the equestrian community as they relate to State oversight and regulation of equine health issues. Although the EHAC will report directly to the Maryland Horse Industry Board, it will also serve as an important advisor to the Office of the State Veterinarian and the Secretary of Agriculture on the issues of concern in the equine industry.

It is our hope that the eventually appointed members of the committee will take their responsibilities very seriously and will be dedicated not only to effective crises management but will also be dedicated to the equally important, albeit more mundane business of routine regulatory issues that are essential for effective health management and industry commerce.

We urge MHIB to appoint committee members with vision and creativity – with the vision to look beyond the immediate issues of to- day to foresee how an issue not a problem today could become a problem in the future, and the creativity to offer practical, implementable solutions that can help improve the future of equine health management in Maryland.

In order to foster a committee that is forward thinking, the task force has taken pains to construct a blueprint that, if followed, will help to ensure that productive dialogue.

This task force and subsequent Equine Health Advisory Committee was born out of an equine health crises in Maryland. Although it is listed as part of the responsibilities of EHAC, it is vital that the committee immediately perform a thorough assessment of the current reportable diseases, and advise on how this list should be updated.

Although not specifically mentioned in the blueprint because of its precise nature, the task force also endeavors the EHAC to analyze and make recommendations on updating Maryland’s Coggins-test management system, including the possible implementation of electronic filing as well as exploring ways to give the Coggins-test
oversight system more credibility in the eyes of the general equestrian public.

Other topics too specific for the blueprint were the establishment of a fund to cope with catastrophic equine health events and a study of potential health issues associated with the wild pony population on Assateague Island.

For more information about the original task force, see the June 2005 Front Page in The Equiery’s archives at www.equiery.com. The purpose of the Maryland Equine Health Advisory Committee is to advise the Maryland Horse Industry Board and the Department of Agriculture on matters of equine health and disease in the state. The task force created a structure for the committee that balanced the need for representation of the varied and vast equine interests in the state with a workable size group that can be effective.

The Equine Health Advisory Committee is tasked with ensuring the establishment and implementation of effective industry and community communication vehicles, and with review and ad- vising on state policies and protocols regarding reportable diseases, state statutes and regulations relating to equine health, interstate health requirements, the capabilities of Maryland State Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratories, and emergency preparedness protocols. Its first meeting will be in April, 2006.

Now, we are pleased to present the 2006 appointments to the Maryland Equine Health Advisory Committee:

MD Department of Agriculture
– Office of the MD State Veterinarian: William Higgins, D.V.M. and Marla Stevens,
D.V.M. (joint appointment)
Licensed Veterinarian Representative from the MD Horse
Industry Board: John Lee, Jr., D.V.M. (acting chairman)
University of Maryland – College of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Amy Burk, Ph.D.
VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Maryland Campus: Katherine Feldman, D.V.M.
VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Equine Medical Center: Nathaniel A. White II, D.V.M.
MD Horse Industry Board: Erin Petersen, M.S., P.A.S.
MD Horse Council Representatives: Doreen Hill, PhD. and Karen Fulton, Full Moon Farm
MD Vet. Med. Assoc. Representative: Amy Polkes, D.V.M.
MD Assoc. of Equine Practitioners Representative: Elizabeth Callahan, D.V.M.
MD Racing Commission: Mike Hopkins