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'I can’t even tell you how devastating it was': Equine herpes kills several horses at Wellington County farm

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More than 20 horses are in quarantine at Irish Creek Stables in Wellington County, after ten were infected with equine herpes last month.

The virus known as EHV-1 was detected at the farm in early January.

Irish Creek Stables owner Liz Lewis said the virus had killed four horses and forced the farm to euthanize a fifth.

“I can’t even tell you how devastating it was. It was terrible,” Lewis told CTV News.

Equine herpes is a respiratory and neurological disease that horses can acquire at a young age.

Irish Creek Stables sent three infected horses to the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph to be better monitored. Lewis said two of the horses returned to the farm, the other died.

University of Guelph associate professor Luis Arroyo said a horse can go his whole life without spreading the disease or showing symptoms, but once a horse sheds the virus it can be easily transmitted.

“There are some horses that will be shedding the virus without showing any clinical signs,” Arroyo said. “That’s how it spreads just like the cold or the flu.”

Arroyo added that the virus can spread from horse to horse through direct contact, contaminated utensils, or from people who had been in close contact.

Equine herpes isn’t dangerous to humans.

Arroyo said most infected horses don’t die from the disease, but it has been known to cause abortions as well as limiting their overall quality of life.

“The virus spreads in the system and affects the cells that line the blood vessels,” Arroyo said. “When that happens in the spinal cord for example, there’s no blood supply to that tissue so the neurons start to die and that’s why they show neurological signs and that’s why they go down and cannot get up.”

Lewis said one of the infected horses that did recover from the virus has been showing signs of neurological trauma.

“He had a little difficulty with walking on his hind so you can tell that it’s affected his left side,” Lewis said. “I think of it as having a stroke.”

Irish Creek Stables said it has paid around $20,000 for medication and veterinary care.

The farm will remain under quarantine until at least Feb. 14. No horses are permitted in or out of the property until each is tested and the quarantine is lifted.

Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture confirmed Irish Creek Stables is the only facility with reported EHV-1 infection in 2023.

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