01/10/2009 12:00AM

Mixed findings in Fair Grounds herpes case


NEW ORLEANS - A sick horse at Fair Grounds has tested positive for the equine herpesvirus in one of two herpes tests administered on Thursday at the Louisiana State University equine clinic in Baton Rouge, La. The horse, from the barn of trainer Frank Leggio, tested positive for the non-neurological, or so-called "live strain" of the virus, in a nasal-swab test, but a blood test produced a negative result, according to Dr. Tom David, the equine medical director for the Louisiana State Racing Commission.

This was the second case at Fair Grounds of a sick horse testing positive for the equine herpesvirus. A Dallas Stewart-trained filly was sent to Kentucky late last month and was diagnosed with the virus on Dec. 24. Five other horses trained by Stewart - horses who did not appear to be sick - either had positive or suspicious test results and were moved off the Fair Grounds backstretch.

The barn housing horses trained by Stewart and Neil Howard is the site of an ongoing quarantine. That is Barn 4, and Leggio is stabled in Barn 2, which is right next to the quarantined barn.

No new quarantine restrictions have been imposed at Fair Grounds by either the Louisiana or United States departments of agriculture. The filly, David said, was to be retested on Monday in an effort to determine whether the virus was actually active in the horse's system. A certain percentage of the equine population carries a latent strain of the herpesvirus that can produce a positive nasal-swab test. And at Fair Grounds, there has been no evidence of the virus's most serious strain, which produces neurological problems and is much more serious. The Stewart filly who originally was diagnosed quickly recovered.

David said the sick Leggio horse had a low-grade temperature "a few days prior to shipping to LSU," and that when her temperature rose to 103 degrees, which is fairly high though not especially dangerous, she was shipped to the clinic. No other horses in Leggio's barn have shown signs of illness. Horsemen at Fair Grounds are supposed to report any horse with an elevated temperature.

The initial herpesvirus diagnosis led to a two-day shipping ban at Fair Grounds, which disrupted racing on Dec. 28 and 29. Other states and racetracks have been leery of allowing in horses from Louisiana. After initially barring Louisiana ship-ins, Oaklawn Park in Arkansas last Monday decided that Fair Grounds shippers were to be permitted. Horses often ship between Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, which run concurrently in January, February, and March. Gulfstream Park in Florida will not accept ship-ins from a place where there has been a confirmed herpes diagnosis within 30 days.