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Possible fatal virus found in horses at Sunland Racetrack

The New Mexico Livestock Board and the New Mexico Racing Commission are working with officials at Sunland Park Racetrack to ensure that a horse-specific virus is limited to just the few racehorses confirmed positive this week.

Several barns at Sunland Park Racetrack are under quarantine following confirmation of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV), specifically EHV-1.

The Livestock Board is taking extra precautions by restricting horse movement to and from the area that includes Sunland Park Racetrack, as well as local horse-training centers Frontera, Jovi, and Lazy S.

There are several strains of EHV; none of them are transmissible to humans. Early reports suggesting the strain was EHV-4 – which produces mainly respiratory problems – were erroneous.

The strain confirmed in the five horses at Sunland Park was the neurotropic form of EHV-1, which can cause severe neurological problems in horses. The first confirmation was made Thursday.

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, EHV-1 is contagious and spread through contact: either directly from horse to horse, or indirectly via human handlers, feed and water buckets, grooming gear, riding tack, and trailers.

Biosecurity measures being taken include isolating horses confirmed to have EHV-1; cleaning and disinfecting any surfaces or items horses may come into contact with; controlling foot traffic within the racetrack; providing plastic boot covers for personnel whose movement around the premises is essential; and sanitizing footwear and clothing.

“It’s mandatory that, twice a day, the temperature of every horse on the grounds is taken, logged, and reported to both Sunland Park and to the Racing Commission,” said Dan Fick, acting director of the New Mexico Racing Commission. Fever is a major indicator of EHV-1.

Samples are being taken from horses suspected of having the virus. Those samples are being submitted for testing at New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s (NMDA) Veterinary Diagnostic Services laboratory in Albuquerque.

In addition to state government’s regulatory measures, Sunland Park is taking its own steps to control the potential spread of the virus.

“In the interest of equine safety, Sunland Park Racetrack is postponing racing for an initial period of 14 days,” Rick Baugh, general manager of Sunland Park Racetrack, said. “I’d like to thank all the agencies involved, as well as our horsemen, for their cooperation and support as we take a proactive approach to protect our horses and make a quick return to live racing.”

Horsemen who have recently had horses at Sunland Park Racetrack are advised to contact their veterinarian for medical questions and to contact the Livestock Board for quarantine questions.

Officials with the Livestock Board, Racing Commission, and Sunland Park Racetrack will continue to work together to resolve the issue.

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