Horse virus raises concerns, but no cases yet in Routt County |

Horse virus raises concerns, but no cases yet in Routt County

Equine herpes has appeared in 37 states

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about Routt County Fairgrounds.

An outbreak of a potentially fatal equine herpes virus has prompted concern among local horse owners, veterinarian Mike Gotchey said.

Gotchey, who works at Steamboat Veterinary Hospital, said he has received phone calls and emails from people who have heard about cases of equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy. The virus has not been reported in Routt County, though it has appeared in Colorado and 36 other states, Gotchey said.

The outbreak has been traced to a cutting horse show in Ogden, Utah, from April 29 to May 8, according to a release from the College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

Gotchey said the biggest risk is to horses that frequently are exposed to other horses, such as those ridden in Gymkhana and 4-H competitions.

"It doesn't matter where your horse has been," he said. "One of these horses you see at these competitions may have been exposed."

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The Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden reported Tuesday that it was voluntarily closing its facilities to horses for two weeks as a preventative measure, according to a news release. The fairgrounds management is asking that no horses enter the grounds.

There is no reason to believe infected horses have been on the property, according to the release.

Many horses already have been vaccinated for rhinovirus, Gotchey said, and he said he wouldn't recommend that horse owners who vaccinate regularly do so again.

The biggest concern locally is horses that are coming in from somewhere else, he said.

"I would make sure any horses from the Front Range were isolated for 21 to 30 days" to make sure they don't develop symptoms.

The most common symptom of the virus is a fever of 101.5 degrees or more, according to Gotchey and the Colorado State release. Horse owners should contact their veterinarian if a horse has a fever, Gotchey said. The Colorado State release recommended that owners check temperatures twice daily of horses that might have been exposed to the virus — fever spikes can be missed if owners check just once.

Gotchey also noted that people who have horses in isolation should make sure they aren't inadvertently contaminating the rest of the herd.

"You could step in some water or hay, stool that had the virus in it and step into another stall and spread it," Gotchey said, "so you want to be careful of your hygiene."

The virus can be spread by horses eating or drinking at the same place and by nose-to-nose contact, he said.

Horses with the virus can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, he said. Treatment of the virus with the equine equivalent of Valtrex, called Valacyclovir, can cost $20 to $300 per day, according to Colorado State University.

Gotchey said he recommended that horse owners keep unvaccinated horses isolated.

"On horses that have never been vaccinated, the best is to keep them away from everybody," he said. "This is going to blow over in a couple of weeks."

Questions regarding the closure of Routt County Fairgrounds can be directed to the Fair Office at 970-276-3068 or

Tips for horse owners

Horses that are isolated from others probably aren’t at risk of equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy. If a horse frequently encounters other horses, it might be.

Veterinarian Mike Gotchey noted that multiple rhinovirus vaccines — every three or four months — are controversial. He did not recommend that owners vaccinate horses that already are on a regular vaccination schedule.

The main symptom is a fever of 101.5 degrees or higher. Those who think their horse may have been affected should contact their veterinarian.

Horses brought in from the Front Range or elsewhere should be completely isolated from other horses for 21 to 30 days to ensure they don’t have symptoms, Gotchey recommends.

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