Horses

Horse owners, as well as producers of other hooved animals, should be on the lookout for a highly contagious virus among their stock that was recently confirmed in Benton County.

On July 27, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture issued an alert noting that several instances of vesicular stomatitis virus (commonly referred to as VSV) had been confirmed at an equine facility in Benton County.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, VSV primarily affects horses and cattle, although it may affect other hooved animals such as sheep, goats and swine. Humans can also become infected with the virus when handling the animals and coming into contact with infected saliva or nasal secretions.

It is primarily spread among animals through black flies and other biting insects. The virus outbreak in Benton County appears to be a strain specific to horses.

The largest and most recent outbreak was in 2015, according to the USDA. “Outbreaks usually occur during the warmer months, often along waterways. The time from exposure to the onset of clinical signs is two to eight days,” according to a fact sheet from the department.

Heidi Ward, assistant professor and extension livestock veterinarian for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said that while VSV poses a potential threat to the state’s beef cattle industry, this particular outbreak in horses is likely due to the fact that horses are moved much more frequently, especially when county fairs and rodeos are in season. For this reason, she said, precautions must be taken when moving animals within Arkansas.

The virus primarily attacks the superficial vessels of the nose, mouth, lips and tongue, causing ruptures and painful sores. This in turn causes an animal to produce an increased amount of saliva, which may be the strongest indicator of infection to an owner or veterinarian. The painful nature of the sores discourages animals from eating, which can lead to further illness.

“Another reason why this is on the radar is that it can infect humans,” Ward said. “People can develop influenza-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches and headache. It’s zoonotic, so if people suspect infection in their animals, they need to take precautions for themselves by wearing gloves.”

This is especially true for animals producing lots of saliva, Ward said, because rabies can evince those symptoms as well.

The case detected in Benton County is the first such case in Arkansas in 2020. Cases have recently been confirmed in Texas, Kansas and Missouri, affecting mostly horses but some cattle, too, Ward said.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture has issued movement restrictions for horses in Benton County, as well as the three adjacent counties — Carroll, Madison and Washington counties. In order to transport any equine (horses, donkeys or mules) off the owner’s property, owners must have a certificate of inspection issued by a veterinarian licensed in Arkansas and accredited by the USDA, not more than five days from the date of travel. The department also issued quarantine orders for all animals on the property where VSV was detected, as well as animals on all adjacent properties.

Equine, cattle and other hooved animal owners in Arkansas preparing to transport their animals to other states should check with veterinary authorities in the destination states regarding what, if any, certifications are required.

Ward said horse and cattle owners should inspect their animals daily, and take common-sense precautions seriously.

“Always assume that when you’re handling your horse that everything you touch could be infectious,” Ward said. “If you touch them, make sure you’re wearing protective gear, especially gloves.”

Arkansans who have questions about VSV, or suspect animals on their property may be infected with the virus, should contact the state veterinarian’s office at 501-823-1733.

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