11/16/2012 5:34PM

Hawthorne: Herpesvirus situation takes turn for the worse

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STICKNEY, Ill. – Two horses who fell seriously ill Wednesday at Hawthorne Race Course have tested positive for equine herpesvirus, while a horse in still another barn on the Hawthorne backstretch came down with symptoms consistent with the virulent neurologic strain of the virus.

Eighteen days had passed before the pair of horses in Barn E got sick Wednesday morning, and the report of another new case Friday confirms the virus, known as EHV-1, continues to circulate through Hawthorne’s equine population.

A number of horsemen Friday morning voiced support for halting the Hawthorne race meet, but Friday’s races went on as scheduled. Ten horses were scratched on the nine-race card, at least two because of concerns about the virus. But there are no plans to deviate from the protocols that have been established in an effort to isolate horses who have shown EHV-1 symptoms or tested positive for the disease, and so far, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has supported continuing the Hawthorne meet.

“I’m against that,” Dr. Dawn Folker-Calderon, the Illinois state veterinarian working at Hawthorne, said when asked about the possibility of a meet stoppage.

Folker-Calderon and other Hawthorne regulators believe horses are at least as likely – if not more so – to be susceptible to the disease if they are required to remain in their stalls. The EHV-1 virus can be transmitted by direct contact or through the air. Folker-Calderon said it was more important that horsemen exercise stringent disinfecting routines than keep their horses in the barn.

Trainer Dale Bennett, whose 2-year-old filly Ginger and Spice died from EHV-1 on Wednesday, didn’t train his horses for the second day in a row, and scratched an entrant from Friday’s race card. Bennett thinks vets and track administrators have lost the ability to protect horses from infection, and that the meet should be stopped. All his horses were tested for the virus after Ginger and Spice got sick, and three returned positive EHV-1 results.

“There are too many moving parts – gate people, pony people, the track crew,” Bennett said. “This thing has gotten out of their control now, and that’s all there is to it.”

The other horse that on Wednesday showed the loss of coordination that occurs with the onset of the neurologic strain of the virus, a filly trained by Mike Reavis, is in the barn K-2 isolation area, her condition apparently stable. The horse with neurologic symptoms Friday (EHV-1 test results have not yet confirmed the virus’s presence), from the string of trainer Steve Manley in Barn  9, was too impaired to move to the isolation area as of noon. Bennett’s horse fell while being walked from Barn E to Barn K-2, was unable to get up, and was euthanized.

The herpesvirus outbreak began here Oct. 14 in Barn A, killing two horses trained by Jim DiVito. After a horse in Barn C became ill and tested positive for EHV-1 on Oct.26, horses were banned from leaving the racetrack. Eighteen days passed before another horse showed neurologic symptoms, and before the events of Wednesday, hope had risen that the virus might have run its course.