07/26/2007 11:00PM

Saratoga vets wary of Potomac fever

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the celebrated Saratoga race meet gets under way in New York, a local veterinary clinic is asking horsemen in the area to be vigilant against symptoms consistent with Potomac horse fever.

In the last eight weeks, the Saratoga Equine Veterinary Hospital has treated about 25 cases showing symptoms consistent with the disease, a bacterial infection that is treatable but can be fatal, according to the clinic's Dr. Axel Sondhof. Tests to confirm PHF have been "unrewarding," Sondhof said, but the similarities between the horses' symptoms and PHF infection prompted the hospital to post an informational bulletin for its clients on the hospital's website.

So far the racetrack has seen no cases, says Dr. Tony Verderosa, the New York Racing Association's chief veterinarian.

"We always see a few every year with very similar presentations," Sondhof said. "This particular year, we have had an increased number, no doubt about it."

Horses with Potomac horse fever are not contagious to other horses. It is caused when a horse ingests the bacteria, often by drinking water where infected insects or similar carriers have been present or by accidentally ingesting the insects themselves. The bacteria can cause inflammation of the gut, resulting in such symptoms as fever, diarrhea, lethargy or general depression, lack of appetite, and lack of thirst.

The disease most often occurs where horses are stabled near freshwater streams or ponds, which also can be locations for bacteria-carrying parasites in some snails. But horses don't have to be near such water sources to be infected, and insects like caddis flies and mayflies have also been implicated as carriers.

The disease responds to antibiotic treatment, but left unchecked it can cause colic, laminitis, and death.

Verderosa recommended that horsemen continue to maintain close awareness of their horses' behavior, noting that horses who have shipped in sometimes appear "off" for a short period.

"Horses are susceptible because their immune systems are stressed," he said of animals who have traveled or are in new surroundings. "But if a horse is colicky and has a fever at the same time, a veterinarian is going to start thinking of other possible causes, and one of those things is Potomac horse fever."

Sondhof stressed that early detection is key.

"Monitoring horses' temperatures is important in early detection," he said. "Our experience is that it is highly treatable if the treatment is initiated rapidly."

Pilot error caused crash, board says

Almost a year after Comair Flight 5191 crashed in Lexington, killing several well-known Thoroughbred horsemen, the National Transportation Safety Board determined Thursday that pilot error was the crash's probable cause.

According to a release issued Thursday night after a daylong meeting, the NTSB noted "the flight crew's failure to use available clues and aids to identify the airplane's location on the airport surface during taxi and their failure to cross check and verify that the airplane was on the correct runway before takeoff."

On Aug. 27, 2006, Flight 5191 attempted takeoff at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport from the wrong runway, one that was closed and too short. The commuter jet crashed in farmland adjacent to the airport, killing 49 passengers and crew, including central Kentucky farm owners Dan Mallory, 55, and George Brunacini, 60, and trainer Jeff Williams, 49. Also killed was Marcie Thomason, 25, daughter of Mill Ridge Farm executive Bill Thomason, and his wife, Barbara.

The crash's sole survivor was co-pilot James Polehinke, who was at the plane's controls during takeoff and was badly injured.

Art prints to fund laminitis research

Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, and Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, have authorized a new art print set depicting the horses as part of fund-raising efforts for the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center's Laminitis Fund; both horses died after contracting the hoof disease.

The print set, which features the horses separately, will be unveiled in Saratoga over the Aug. 4-5 weekend, Secretariat.com announced. The limited-edition sets, signed by the horses' connections, are available for $300; a poster of both horses is available for $30.

* NYRA will hold Fleet Indian Day at Saratoga on Wednesday to honor the 2006 champion older mare, who is a New York-bred. The day will also showcase Race for Education, a scholarship program championed by Fleet Indian's owner, Paul Saylor. The day will feature the first running of the Fleet Indian Stakes for New York-bred fillies and also will offer a drawing for two $1,000 Race for Education scholarships sponsored by Saylor and Taylor Made Farm.

* The farriers' magazine Hoofcare and Lameness Journal will sponsor a public discussion of toe grabs in Saratoga on Aug. 7. The forum will feature Kentucky farriery experts Steve Norman and Mitch Taylor and will take place in the evening at the Parting Glass dart room. The event is free.