Two herpes viruses that commonly infect equine respiratory systems are the equine herpes virus type 1 (EHV-1) and type 4 (EHV-4). Respiratory infections from the equine herpes virus are also known as rhino pneumonitis. EHV-1 and EHV-4 respiratory illnesses may have a similar appearance to equine influenza. Although there are other respiratory related equine herpes viruses, these two are most concerning.
The sick horse should be quarantined from other horses. Horses from the same ranch or stable should not be transported to prevent spread of disease. The area should be kept clean, as sick horses are susceptible to bacterial infections and to prevent spread of EHV.
Symptoms of respiratory infection from either of the herpes viruses in horses include anorexia, cough, fever, lethargy, nasal discharge and swollen glands. Within 2 to 10 days of exposure, the horse may experience a very high fever from 102 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. The EHV-1 virus may result in mares aborting fetuses. The virus may also cause equine herpes virus myeloencephalopathy, a sporadic paralytic neurological disease.
EVH-1 and EVH-4 are contagious. The viruses may be spread via nasal secretions or airborne from coughs. These viruses are more rampant in weanlings and young horses. The viruses may quickly spread among young horses sharing stables or pasture land. Most mature horses do not develop a serious respiratory illness from the herpes virus due to an immunity fostered over time. However, the neurological form of the herpes virus affects mature horses more than younger horses.
Although consistent vaccinations do not prevent the spread of EHV, research findings indicate that vaccinations may reduce abortion rates. The medical community believes that EHV vaccinations decrease symptoms and severity of respiratory tract infections among foals and young horses. Vaccinations should be considered for donkeys and mules, as the EHV-1 and EHV-4 may be transmitted to these closely related animals.
Owners should report symptoms of the respiratory infection to a veterinarian. A veterinarian will want to conduct a blood test for low white blood cell counts to determine if the respiratory ailment is a result of EHV-1 or EHV-4. Antibiotics provide no benefit for a virus. There is no known cure for respiratory illness from either type of equine herpes virus. However, most mature horses will recover. Good nutrition is vital. A vet may recommend medication to help the infected horse to breathe comfortably.
Photo is courtesy of Poppy as uploaded by Anguskirk on Flickr’s Creative Commons.
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