Dr. Curt Locklear alerted me to the recent news about equine herpes. Since I tend to have multiple themes in my articles, I will have a little dab about human herpes at the end.
A couple of weeks ago, the first equine herpes in North Carolina was diagnosed. The mare, from Rockingham County, was immediately confined to a separate isolation unit upon its arrival at N.C. State University. Other animals at the hospital have shown no symptoms. Initial symptoms include a fever of 102 degrees or greater and progress to include lack of coordination and trouble walking and standing. Advanced signs include extreme lethargy, abnormal function of the eyes, difficulty swallowing and a coma-like stare. Obviously, you need to contact your veterinarian as quickly as possible.
It is spread through airborne means as well as feed, clothing, etc. While new to North Carolina, EHV-1 was so pervasive out West that six states had to cancel horse events last May. In addition to the 10 Western states that have had cases, so have Virginia and Tennessee. While extremely contagious for horses, it poses no risk to man.
There is a vaccine available but it does not protect against the neurological form of the disease. Still, vaccinations are recommended. There is no transmission from horse to man but people can transport the virus on their hands, clothes and boots. In order to minimize the opportunity for spreading, owners should review their bio-security measures. These measures include not rotating animals from stall to stall, not sharing buckets, ensuring that the human traffic uses disinfectants between barns, and immediately isolating sick horses in the barn for seven days. If a horse has come in contact with a sick animal while away, it should be isolated for 21 days.
Owning animals can be expensive and the decision to do so should be well thought out. With West Nile, Eastern Equine , EHV-1 and other vaccines necessary annually to protect your animal, expenses mount quickly. Personally, I have been amazed at the number of animal cruelty complaints that have surfaced that are related to horse ownership — most can be categorized as neglect. After acquiring the animal, the owner does not have sufficient resources or concern to properly care for it. That is a shame.
On the human front, a new study suggests a test vaccine may help prevent one type of genital herpes, the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting one in four women in the United States. Over a 20-month period, the vaccine prevented outbreaks in 50 percent of the women. So the good news is there is a vaccine, the bad news is that it will not be marketed because it only works on the less severe HSV-1 type herpes. HSV-2 increases the risk of HIV acquisition through sexual intercourse and research is ongoing for a vaccine to work on this. So those of us who get cold sores periodically (mine is usually after a sunny, windy day in March it seems), will continue to have them I guess.
n Bill Smith is director of the Robeson County Health Department.