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By Emily Rasmussen

UPDATE: There are now eight horses that have tested positive for Equine Herpesvirus, as of Friday, April 27.

Three horses in total have tested positive for Equine Herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1), a potentially fatal virus, at Sycamore Trails Stables in San Juan Capistrano on Wednesday, April 18, since a two-week quarantine began on Friday, April 13 when a first horse tested positive and was placed in isolation.

Sycamore Trails Stables Manager Dave Provence confirmed on Monday, April 16 that one of its horses tested positive for EHV-1 and the stables will be in quarantine at least until Tuesday, April 26. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) issued a statement on April 13 that a horse from an Orange County facility was isolated after testing positive for the virus. The CDFA statement has not included that Sycamore Trails Stables is the Orange County facility that is under quarantine. 

The horse that first tested positive, a 17-year-old gelding, has taken residence at Sycamore Trails Stables for years, Sycamore Trails Co-Manager Roxanne Euhus said. The gelding was diagnosed outside of the stables at a hospital, showing neurological symptoms of EHV-1, and is currently in a hospital in San Luis Rey, Euhus said.

On April 18, the CDFA announced that two additional horses were tested positive for EHV-1. There are two forms of the virus, one is respiratory and the other is a neurological form of the disease, also known as Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM). EHM may be caused by damage to blood vessels of the brain and spinal cord associated with EHV-1 infection, according to the CDFA. 

“Two horses located in the quarantined barn at the Orange County premises have been confirmed for (EHV-1),” the CDFA statement said. “A mare displayed a fever the morning of April 17 and a horse which was febrile for one day on Sunday, April 8. Both horses have been placed in separate quarantine isolation stabling on the property.”

The EHM case remains quarantined and isolated offsite and continues to show clinical improvements, the CDFA statement said. It is unclear which strain of EHV-1 the other two horses have.

A sign that read ‘Attention, No Horses May Leave This Facility’ was posted at the entrance of Sycamore Trails Stables, in addition to caution tape and ‘Under Quarantine, Stop, Disease Prevention Control Area’ signs posted across the Sycamore Barn of the stables. EHV-1 does not affect humans, but humans can carry the virus, Provence said.

“Because (the virus) is communicable and it has an incubation period of about 2-10 days, that’s why we have the quarantine,” Provence said.

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EHV-1 in horses can cause respiratory disease, abortion in mares, neonatal foal death and neurological disease, according to the CDFA website. EHV-1 can be easily spread, so the CDFA recommends that horse owners limit horse-to-horse contact, horse-to-human-to-horse contact, avoid the use of communal water sources, avoid sharing equipment unless disinfected and to monitor horses for clinical signs of the disease, which includes a temperature of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The index premises in Orange County has one barn of 56 exposed horses under quarantine,” a CDFA statement said on April 16. “The quarantined exposed horses are under strict biosecurity requirements and are having temperatures taken twice daily.”

A horse owner who has multiple horses stabled at Sycamore Trails Stables said that they are skeptical of the methods of the quarantine. The owner did not want to be named out of potential retaliation.

“I am definitely starting to have a serious concern as far as the way it’s handled and the way it’s spreading,” the owner said.

A horse stands in a corral, with 'Under Quarantine, Stop' signs posted nearby at Sycamore Trails Stables on Wednesday, April 18. Photo: Emily Rasmussen
A horse stands in a corral, with ‘Under Quarantine, Stop’ signs posted nearby at Sycamore Trails Stables on Wednesday, April 18. Photo: Emily Rasmussen

The owner said that the two new horses with EHV-1 are being isolated in an open corral, and although signs are posted, it is easily accessible for a human, or horse, to walk by.

“If you walk by and a horse sneezes, which happens all of the time, then you’re immediately a carrier,” the owner said. “It’s crazy that they put the infected horses in the open air, basically in the middle of the entrance. Just because you put yellow tape around the area doesn’t stop the virus.”

In addition to CDFA veterinarians, people in the barn are testing their own horses also, Provence said. In total, there are approximately 420 horses lodged at Sycamore Trails Stables, he said.

In February 2012, a quarantine was placed at Rancho Sierra Vista Equestrian Stable after 16 horses were discovered to be infected with neuropathogenic equine herpes-1, a potentially fatal virus. The quarantine was lifted February 13, after three weeks passed without any new visible symptoms.

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