Vesicular stomatitus affecting horses in Kansas counties

Alice Mannett/Hutchinson News
A healthy horse grazes in Pratt County, one county not yet affected by vesicular stomatitus that has emerged in three other Kansas counties in the past few weeks.

For the first time in decades, dozens of horses in Kansas have come down with vesicular stomatitis virus.

What started a few weeks ago in Butler County has spread to Cowley, Sedgwick and Sumner counties.

VSV was first confirmed in Butler County on June 16 and has now been confirmed by testing on more than 30 premises in four counties, with another 20 pending cases. Horses that come down with the disease must remain in quarantine for 14 days.

This viral disease primarily affects horses but can also affect cattle, sheep, goats, swine, llamas and alpacas. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, at this time, all confirmed cases of VSV in Kansas are in horses, although some cattle have shown clinical signs with laboratory results pending.

In horses, VSV is typically characterized by lesions that look like crusting scabs on the muzzle, lips, ears, coronary bands or abdomen. Other clinical signs of the disease include fever and the formation of blister-like lesions in the mouth and on the dental pad, tongue, lips, nostrils, ears, hooves and teats. Infected animals may refuse to eat and drink, which can lead to weight loss.

“It is very recoverable,” said Dr. Laurie Beard, an equine internist and head of equine at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s rare to cause any significant mortality.”

Ten horses in Kansas have been released from quarantine.

Dr. Jim Speer of Equine Surgery and Medicine in Wichita has received several phone calls about VSV and is currently treating, in their stables, horses that have the disease. Speer said there is no drug that can cure the virus. Veterinarians usually give anti-inflammatory and pain medications for this painful disease.

VSV usually runs its course in five to seven days. Although Kansas had one case in the far western part of the state last year, the state has not seen this large a number of animals with this disease in decades.

“This is more extensive than we’ve seen in past years,” said Heather Lansdowne, a spokesperson for KDA.

Once one horse gets VSV, the others around that horse do not necessarily come down with the disease.

“It’s a non-discriminating disease,” Speer said. “I’ve been in practice for 32 years; this is my first exposure.”

The disease comes from a fly or midge bite and does not necessarily affect other horses in close proximity to the infected horse. Speer and Beard, along with KDA, recommend controlling the fly population around the animals. This is the most effective way to protect a horse. VSV can also be spread through nose-to-nose contact between animals.

“This outbreak is still very active in south central Kansas, and we encourage all owners of horses and other livestock to continue to be vigilant,” Dr. Justin Smith, animal health commissioner, said in a release. “Monitor your animals for symptoms of VSV, and be in communication with your veterinarian if you see anything of concern.”

KDA has developed guidelines to assist organizations that are hosting shows and fairs across the state and has worked with many of them to consider how they can protect the health and safety of animals attending their events. Many are requiring health forms from animals that reside in counties where VSV is present, both within and outside the state.

Kansas was the fourth state in the U.S. to have confirmed cases of VSV this year. Arizona, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas also have confirmed cases.

“Other states will likely increase restrictions on livestock imports,”  Lansdowne said.

Although VSV primarily affects horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas can get this viral disease. According to KDA, humans who handle affected animals can get flu-like symptoms, but this is a rare occurrence.

As the disease is curable, 10 horses have been released from quarantine.

“I’m worried that it’s the beginning,” Beard said. “I expect that it will spread.”

How to lower risks

• Practice manure management.

• Eliminate standing water and other fly breeding areas.

• Use appropriate insecticide.

• Bedding and manure should be removed at least once a week.

• If bedding or manure is stored, it must be stored with black plastic covering.

• Do not share equipment, tools or tack.

• Separate suspect animals immediately and report to veterinarian and KDA.

• Fairs and rodeos should require papers from exhibitors.

Symptoms in horses and cattle

• Excessive salivation

• Lesions in the mouth, ear and nose

• Lack of appetite

• Lesions around the feet and teat

• Lameness

VSV is considered a reportable disease in Kansas. If you observe clinical signs among your animals, contact your veterinarian right away. For questions about VSV in Kansas, contact your veterinarian or the KDA Division of Animal Health at 785-564-6601.