01/11/2017 4:30PM

Three more horses test positive for EHV-1

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The equine herpesvirus outbreak at Fair Grounds widened Tuesday, with three more horses testing positive, and a new, more rigorous testing protocol that could extend the quarantine of the New Orleans track during the height of its racing season.

The three horses testing positive Tuesday all ran a fever for a brief period but showed no other symptoms and now are healthy, according to their trainers. Two of the cases were in barns not previously affected by the outbreak. Merrill Scherer, who is stabled in barn 4, had a horse test positive, as did Tim Glyshaw in barn 30. The third positive, on a horse trained by Ken Hargrave, came in barn 47, which already was under quarantine because of a positive test there Jan 3. The start of a 14-day quarantine of barn 47 will be reset to Jan. 10.

The three positives tests all were for the so-called wild subtype of the herpes virus, known as EHV-1. Wild-type infections are far more common and far less serious than cases of the neuropathogenic subtype of the EHV-1 virus, which often involve neurologic symptoms and can prove fatal. In a small number of cases, the wild subtype of the virus will mutate in the equine host into the neuropathogenic subtype.

A neuropathogenic EHV-1 case was the first reported at Fair Grounds this winter, on Dec. 26. The horse that tested positive had to be euthanized and remains the only animal to have died from the virus. A second neuropathogenic case was reported Dec. 31 in barn 14, but that horse has since recovered. No horse since Dec. 31 has tested positive for the neurophathogenic subtype.

There now are six Fair Grounds barn under quarantine – numbers 4, 14, 30, 36, 47, and the receiving barn.

The Louisiana State Department of Agriculture and Forestry, in conjunction with federal officials and Fair Grounds, announced a policy, beginning Wednesday, of testing every horse in barns under quarantine. Horses that test positive will be taken to the isolation area set up on the backstretch, as the three horses Tuesday were. Horses that test negative will be tested again no sooner than 72 hours later. To exit quarantine, a barn must produce a full set of negative tests on the 14th day after the quarantine began.

Until this policy was introduced, barns with positive tests were merely required to go 14 days without any horses showing symptoms of illness and testing positive for EHV-1 in order to exit quarantine. Barn 14 was scheduled to come out of quarantine Jan. 13, and entries from that barn were accepted for the Jan. 13 and Jan. 14 cards. Those horses now will have to be scratched, as will horses from the new barns quarantined Tuesday. Besides Scherer, barn 4 houses horses trained by Ray Sibille and Carlos Silva. Glyshaw shares barn 30 with trainer David Heitzmann.

Morning training is conducted in three shifts: Horses from the general population train first, followed by horses from barns that have had a wild-type EHV-1 positive, and a third window for horses stabled in barn 14.

Horsemen are beginning to wonder if the outbreak has a horizon. A significant percentage of the Thoroughbred population (4 percent is the figure widely cited) will test positive for the wild type of the EHV-1 virus under any conditions. The widespread testing Wednesday is likely to produce further positives.

With so many barns now under quarantine, and no shippers allowed, the task of filling race cards will become more difficult. Between the large number of EHV-1 scratches and races carded for turf but rained onto dirt, cards last weekend at Fair Grounds were decimated. Entries taken Wednesday for the Thursday, Jan. 19, card, however, were surprisingly solid: 77 in eight races.

The six-stakes card of Jan. 21 which includes the Grade 3 Lecomte for 3-year-olds, is scheduled to be drawn Friday.

Meanwhile, Delta Downs, about 230 miles west of Fair Grounds, has extended its ban on ship-ins through Jan. 16. Delta has not reported any EHV-1 cases. The many Louisiana horsemen based at training centers in the state, particularly in the Lafayette area, currently have nowhere to race since their horses aren’t allowed to come to Fair Grounds and Delta, and Oaklawn Park has placed an indefinite ban on Louisiana horses.

There have been no reports of EHV-1 anywhere in Louisiana beyond Fair Grounds. John Walther, assistant commissioner for animal health and food safety with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said the department been in contact since the start of the Fair Grounds EHV-1 event with equine facilities throughout Louisiana.

Walther said 65 Fair Grounds ship-ins could have been exposed to an EHV-1 positive horse in the receiving barn. Those horses all have been traced, and EHV-1 testing on them was scheduled to begin Wednesday.