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Horse communities worried about virus outbreak that's like COVID-19


A deadly outbreak causing quarantines, shutdowns, and panic. The world has been dealing with all of that for a year because of COVID-19. But a different virus is now having a similar, devastating impact on the horse community - and the worldwide scare is now affecting stables and events in our backyard.

"These horses are amazing creatures, they're like family."

Catie Staszak has been around horses since she was three years old. She rides, competes, and works in the equestrian world in Wellington. Her job is to keep her horse, Zantos, and others healthy and safe - a responsibility that has just become a lot more challenging.

"It's scary"

A deadly strain of Equine Herpes Virus, which attacks a horse's nervous system, has broken out in Europe. Six horses have died, over 100 have gotten sick and most events have been canceled. They're calling it the worst outbreak the continent has ever seen.

"It's scary because it's so serious and spreads so easily," says Dr. Peter Heidmann, an internal medicine specialist at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

Doctors there have been on the lookout for the virus, also known as EHV-1, by one of its telltale signs - fever in an otherwise healthy horse.

"The easy thing for everyone to do is take temperatures."

Right now we are in the middle of the largest and longest-running competition in the world - the Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. This week they had a scare when a horse was stopped at the precheck - and showed a fever of 103. That horse was isolated and tested negative, and there have been no other close calls so far.

"Everyone's been a little more careful," says Catie. "The horse show has been great, with quite a few extra restrictions."

Horses now must quarantine before competition and social distancing is encouraged, even in their home barns.

All of which seems depressingly familiar.

And while living with COVID has given horse owners a good idea of how to manage these issues.

It’s also raised fears about the possible consequences of this new viral outbreak.

"Emotions are running pretty high right now," says Dr. Heidmann. "In some ways, covid complicates my job, and also makes it easier to talk about these things."

"I almost think people are more scared of EHV than COVID," adds. Catie. "Because that's how much the horses mean to all of us."

In a competition up in Ocala, were some horses tested positive for EHV-1. Fortunately, those cases were not related to the more dangerous European infections. There is a vaccine for it, but it doesn't 100 percent protect the horses from this possibly deadly neurological strain.

So here are some things to think about to keep your horses safe:

1. Take their temperature often - the number one symptom of EHV - one is fever.

2. Isolate any new horses that come to the barn for at least 14 days.

3. Clean and sterilize your stables.

4. Have your horses socially distance