The Parx Racing backside was hit with an outbreak of equine herpes virus (EHV-1) this November, resulting in a shutdown of the stable gate exit to all horses. The quarantine began on November 13th, and will continue until at least January 8th. Racetrack management and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture have teamed up in order to combat the spread of EHV-1, and are confident that the virus has been contained quickly and efficiently.
The state’s required quarantine period has been in place since 2007, and is based on the recommendations of the University of Kentucky’s Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center. All exposed horses must be quarantined for a minimum of 21 days, and the “clock” is started when the infected horse first shows signs of illness. If a new horse shows signs of the virus, the timetable is reset to the day of the latest diagnosis.
Thus far, two horses have tested positive for the neurological disease, and if any additional horses spike a fever without a negative test, or are positively diagnosed with the virus, the required three weeks of quarantine will be reset.
Dr. Alize Simeone, VMD, is the regional veterinarian for the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and has been on the grounds here in Bensalem since the outbreak first occurred. Her goal from the beginning was to keep the virus contained within the larger facility, and in turn to keep it from spreading within itself. This is why multiple barns are quarantined separately from the decision by track management to shut down the traffic of horses leaving the grounds.
The reason for such restrictions is that the virus is extremely infectious. According to Dr. Simeone, “all it takes to spread the disease is close contact with another horse shedding the virus”. Since horses can sneeze as far as 35 feet, and snotty noses are a symptom of EHV-1, keeping the exposed horses under close wraps is a huge help in containing the disease. In addition, humans can carry the virus on clothing or equipment when moving between horses.
The quaratine has resulted in smaller fields hitting the entry box, but Director of Racing Sal Sinatra was pleased with the response from horsemen who are able to run out of their own barns here at Parx. “We have to thank our horsemen for helping to fill races through the quarantine, which has allowed us to continue our scheduled racing programs.”
In addition to the most obvious form of biosecurity – keeping horses from leaving – many other precautions have been taken in an effort to keep the virus from spreading. Not only are the assistant starters at the gate and the horse identifier wearing disposable gloves, but the gate crew is also disinfecting the starting gate after each race, as well as after morning training. Maintenance has moved the manure cans of the quarantined barns, so that they are a safe distance away from unaffected horses. Large signs warning of the dangers have been placed at all entrances to the closed barns.
There are also a number of suggested precautions that Dr. Simeone has urged horsemen to follow, including taking a horse’s temperature often, remembering to wash off all organic material before sanitizing equipment, wearing disposable gloves, and not entering the affected barns if at all possible. If you must enter one of these barns, make sure to bring a full change of clothes, including footwear, and also
conduct your business there after visiting other barns.
Dr. Craig Shultz, DVM, Director of the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services, closed out a meeting with concerned horsemen by stating how positive his opinion is of how the track has handled the outbreak. “We support the decision not to allow the gates to be open by track management. Racetracks have actually done very well with this (virus); better than other equine industries.”