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Oklahoma State horses pond.jpg Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services
Horses infected with vesicular stomatitis must be quarantined, but most recover with proper treatment.

Managing for vesicular stomatitis in horses

Viral disease has been reported in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona and now Oklahoma so far in 2020.

With vesicular stomatitis (VS) confirmed in surrounding states, Oklahoma horse owners were warned to be on the lookout for signs of the disease in their animals, and now a case has been confirmed in Washington County, Okla., according to Oklahoma State University Extension.

VS is a contagious viral disease that — while rarely life threatening — can have a significant financial impact on an individual horse owner and the state’s equine industry, said Dr. Barry Whitworth, Oklahoma State University Extension veterinarian.

“Vesicular stomatitis is a reportable disease. State and federal animal health authorities will be contacted by a horse owner’s local veterinarian, and the state veterinarian will quarantine an affected farm or ranch if a case is confirmed through testing,” he said.

There is currently no U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved vaccine available.

So far in 2020, the viral disease has been reported in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona and now Oklahoma.

Oklahoma law requires that horses and other susceptible animal species must be confined to a quarantined location for at least 14 days from the onset of the last case on the property. Equestrian event organizers may choose to cancel horse shows, rodeos and similar events in the surrounding area, Oklahoma State Extension noted. Interstate movement of horses also may be restricted.

Symptoms include blister-like lesions on the tongue, mouth lining, nose or lips of an affected horse. Excessive salivation, difficulty eating and swelling of the coronary band also may be seen. In some cases, the lesions develop on a horse’s udder or sheath. Whitworth said a horse manager should contact a veterinarian immediately if such symptoms are observed.

The disease can be passed from horse to horse by contact with saliva or fluid from ruptured blisters.

“Insect control programs should be implemented, as insects are the primary manner in which the virus is spread,” Oklahoma State Extension equine specialist Kris Hiney said. “Physical contact between animals or contact with buckets, equipment, housing, trailers, feed, bedding, shared water troughs or other items used by an infected horse also can provide a ready means of spread.”

Oklahoma State recommendations include the following to help prevent the occurrence of VS:

  • Healthy horses are more disease resistant, so provide good nutrition, regular exercise, deworming and routine vaccinations.
  • Isolate new horses for at least 21 days before introducing them into a herd or stable.
  • Implement an effective insect control program, because certain types of flies and midges can transmit the disease. Remove manure promptly, and eliminate potential breeding grounds for insects such as standing water and muddy areas.
  • Use individual rather than communal feeders, waterers and equipment.
  • Clean and disinfect feed bunks, waterers, horse trailers and other equipment regularly.
  • Be sure farriers and other equine professionals who come into direct contact with the horse exercise due caution so as not to spread the disease from one horse or facility to the next.

For facilities where VS has been confirmed, horses with lesions should be isolated from others, Oklahoma State Extension said. Healthy animals should always be handled first and ill animals last. Handlers should then shower, change clothing and disinfect equipment to prevent exposing others. Anyone handling infected horses should implement proper biosafety methods, including wearing latex gloves and washing hands after handling animals with lesions.

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