VS outbreak causes concerns

Every horse entering fairgrounds will be checked by vets

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A horse diagnosed with a highly contagious virus in Moffat County has local officials working to make sure the disease doesn't cause problems at the Routt County Fair.

On Monday, a horse in Moffat County became the state's 23rd confirmed case of vesicular stomatitis this year. It is Moffat County's first confirmed case of the disease.

Vesicular stomatitis, which can affect cattle, pigs and sheep, as well as horses, causes lesions on the mouth, hooves and teats. Although the disease can spread to humans, such cases are very rare, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

"It causes ulcers on the mucus membranes of the mouth and sometimes the skin of the feet and nipples. It can cause lameness, and it can cause difficulty and pain in eating, so the horse goes off feed," local veterinarian Lou Dequine said. "The same thing is true of farm animals. It causes sheep and cattle to go off feed, so they don't gain weight and they lose condition. It's not usually a fatal disease, like foot and mouth is, but it's so similar that the federal people always want to keep a close eye on it."

Because the disease is highly contagious, Routt County Fair officials are taking extra precautions to make sure the annual event -- which kicks off this weekend with an open horse show -- is a safe place for animals.

"(Vesicular stomatitis) is not going to have a long-term impact on the horse, but it's so contagious. If we end up with a confirmed case on the grounds, then the whole fairgrounds gets quarantined, and as I understand it, the quarantine lasts for three weeks after the legions go away," Routt County Fair Board Coordinator Jill Altman said. "With hundreds upon hundreds of animals here, it's just too big of a risk to take. It's a small inconvenience to get checked, but it will prevent a really big inconvenience."

Fair officials announced Tuesday that all people bringing horses to the fairgrounds must provide a certificate documenting that each animal has been checked by a veterinarian within the past 10 days and has been found free of vesicular stomatitis. Horses without certificates will be checked onsite by a veterinarian.

"They're going to come in with their horse trailers, and we're going to have the vet set up right there," Altman said. "It will take two minutes."

The testing, which will take place before horses are allowed into the stabling area, is a simple visual diagnosis of each horse's mouth for lesions. After a horse has been examined, the owner will be issued a certificate that is valid for 10 days.

Upon re-entering the fairgrounds, owners will need only to show their certificates, according to a press release issued by the Routt County Fair Association. Only an accredited and licensed veterinarian can examine animals for evidence of the disease and provide certification that the animal has no clinical signs of the disease. If a horse is found to have lesions and the disease is suspected, the animal will be sent home and reported to the State Veterinarian's Office.

Because they tend to be shipped from place to place frequently, horses are most likely to spread the virus and are the focus of the veterinary checks. Cattle and sheep will not be checked, but any animals coming from places that are under quaratine must be checked and have vesicular stomatitis-free certificates before entering the fairgrounds, veterinarian Mike Gotchey said.

Fair officials have arranged to have veterinarians on fairgounds premises during all times that horses are expected to arrive.

"We'll have a vet here pretty much all the time," Altman said. "Steamboat Vet (Hospital) and Kirk Shiner are helping us out tremendously."

This won't be the first time the fair has implemented such measures, Routt County Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said. About 10 years ago, the fair took similar precautions during another VS outbreak.

Mucklow stressed that the measures are purely precautionary and that the disease has not been found in Routt County.

---- To reach Melissa Roddy call 871-4221

or e-mail mroddy@steamboatpilot.com

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