05/28/2004 12:00AM

Rabies eyed in Florida

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Rabies is believed to be the underlying cause in the death of a 2-year-old colt who was euthanized May 20 at Calder after developing neurological problems earlier that day.

According to track veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay, the colt, Truely Proud, developed "vague neurological symptoms" on the morning of May 20. She said the horse's condition deteriorated throughout the day, leading to the decision to euthanize him that evening.

Scollay said a decision was made by the attending veterinarian and Calder officials to send postmortem samples from Truely Proud to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for examination. Pathologists at the lab confirmed earlier this week they had found signs of the rabies virus in the brain. Additional samples were also sent to the Florida Department of Agriculture, which administered an immuno-fluorescent antibody test, which they reported to be inconclusive regarding the presence of rabies.

Tissue samples were also sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, where tests had not been completed by the close of business on Friday.

"Based on the inconsistencies of the two reports we made, the determination was that we had an unconfirmed but potential case of rabies and took the necessary precautions, including the immunization of anybody who had been exposed to the horse," Scollay explained. "Even though there has never been a documented case of horse-to-human transmission."

The most common route of exposure to the rabies virus for a horse comes from the bite of an infected fox, skunk, raccoon, or cat. The incubation period can range from six days to six months, making it difficult to determine when the horse was originally exposed.

Truely Proud came to trainer Bill Cesare's barn at Calder five weeks ago from a farm in Ocala, had been training regularly and appeared to be in excellent health until last Thursday, according to Scollay.

"Rabies is 100 percent fatal, and obviously we're taking the potential of this disease very seriously," said Scollay. "Although at this point there is no reason for anybody to panic."