June 2008

As part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) ongoing work to expedite the identification and control of disease, the College Park Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory is now able to perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for equine herpesvirus-1, the causal agent of a common horse disease often called “rhino.” This capability includes the neuropathic strain of the virus which causes neurologic herpes (equine herpes myeloencephalopathy), a significant disease of horses in the US.

The ability to detect EHV-1 neuro with PCR analysis will enable the industry and MDA to more quickly detect and more effectively respond to suspected and actual cases, reducing the adverse economic impact associated with actual and suspected outbreaks of this disease. Previously, samples collected in the field would be sent across the country for analysis using this same technique. The delay in receiving results meant that animals implicated in the disease investigation, but not infected, would be restricted longer while awaiting results. Reducing the turnaround time of the samples significantly reduces the time between suspicion of disease and a determination that the virus is or is not present, allowing the response activities to more properly focus on the infected animals.

MDA intends to make this available to equine veterinary practitioners soon and will also have that valuable asset available to assist in the management of suspected outbreaks of EHV myeloencephalitis. The goal is to provide same day results for swabs and blood submitted before noon most business days. PCR is now a common and often indispensable technique used in medical and biological research labs for a variety of applications.