Updated on 01/20/2017 4:09PM

New protocols could hasten end of EHV-1 quarantine

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NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry on Thursday announced key changes to the protocol governing the equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) outbreak at Fair Grounds that should expedite the end of quarantines placed on six barns and help restore normalcy to the race meet here.

Provided no more EHV-1 cases are reported at the track, the state quarantine of Fair Grounds that began Jan. 12 will be lifted Jan. 21 for the 42 barns in which horses have not tested positive for the virus.

Also, horses with no symptoms and apparently otherwise healthy that are stabled in the six quarantined barns no longer will be tested for EHV-1. If no positive tests are reported in these barns, they’ll be considered for a release from quarantine 21 days after any EHV-1 positive horses were sent into isolation.

Initially, horsemen were told barns would exit quarantine if no symptomatic horses tested positive for 14 days, but on Jan. 10, that policy was changed: Every horse in all the quarantined barns would be tested, and a barn could only exit quarantine after all its occupants twice tested negative.

The horses already isolated from barn 14, barn 36, and the receiving barn must twice test negative before they can be removed from temporary stalls set up in tents in three places on the Fair Grounds property.

Healthy-horse testing conducted on three quarantined barns last week produced 30 positive tests, creating trying circumstances for track officials, regulators, and horsemen in figuring out how to adequately isolate the horses with positive tests. The protocol threatened to expand beyond control as more barns were tested, and would have seriously compromised the ongoing race meet at Fair Grounds.

The changes reportedly were spurred by a meeting Monday at Fair Grounds during which a group of racetrack veterinarians strenuously made the case to Fair Grounds and regulatory officials that healthy-horse testing was counterproductive and inappropriate. That meeting led to a second meeting Tuesday in Baton Rouge during which state officials decided to revamp the protocol.

Fair Grounds horsemen had grown ever more frustrated with the worsening situation because horses have been testing positive only for the relatively benign wild type of the EHV-1 virus. Wild-type EHV-1, which is endemic in horse populations, regularly runs through backstretches and generally, at worst, produces mild illness. It usually goes undiagnosed because no tests are performed. The expanded testing and subsequent raft of positives at Fair Grounds only came about because two horses several weeks ago contracted the much more dangerous neuropathogenic EHV-1 strain.

That outbreak began in barn 14 and resulted in the death of a horse Dec. 26, but apparently has been contained. A second horse, a filly from barn 14 infected with the neuropathogenic strain that has been isolated since returning a positive test Dec. 31, tested negative for EHV-1 on Tuesday, according to Dr. Ramley Bordelon, a private-practice veterinarian who cared for the horse and administered the tests, which were then sent to a laboratory at Louisiana State University.

The filly must test negative again in order to be removed from isolation. A second negative result would all but confirm that the initial neuropathogenic EHV-1 outbreak here is over. The incubation period for the strain is 10-14 days.

Following the first EHV-1 case in barn 14, horsemen were asked to report any horse with a temperature of 101.5 or greater; a feverish horse in barn 36 tested positive for EHV-1 on Jan. 1. This positive test and every subsequent positive have been for wild type EHV-1, but the receiving barn and barns 4, 30, 45, and 47 also were swept up into quarantine after horses with fevers returned positive tests.

Before the Department of Agriculture and Forestry imposed a quarantine on the backstretch, Fair Grounds had instituted a movement restriction barring shipping into and out of the track. That restriction remains in place as Fair Grounds decides how to respond to the state’s decision Thursday. The accepting of ship-ins could be complicated because the receiving barn where shippers often are stabled is one of the barns under quarantine. Several Fair Grounds-based trainers, however, also run strings at the Evangeline Downs Training Center and could accept offtrack horses into their own barns. ​