No News Is Good News: State Vet Office and Slovis Confirm that Kentucky Horse Disease Rumors Are False

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Rusty Ford, Equine Program Manager in the office of the Kentucky State Veterinarian
, has issued a statement denying rumors circulating on the Internet and via social media that a mysterious disease is affecting horses in central Kentucky.

The notice was sent to members of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners (KAEP) and asked veterinarians to assist in quelling the rumors.

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The main part of the statement reads:

“During the past hours the Kentucky State Veterinarians Office has received calls describing postings on the internet (primarily social media) as well as multiple mass emailings falsely reporting a mysterious disease affecting horses in and around Central Kentucky.

“The Kentucky State Veterinarians Office, working cooperatively with our diagnostic laboratories, veterinary practitioners, tracks, farms, and other industry individuals have reliable disease surveillance protocols in place to detect early any threatening condition.

“Please know THERE IS NO VALIDITY TO THE RUMORS THAT ARE BEING SPREAD – AND THAT WE HAVE NO ELEVATED DISEASE CONCERNS AT THIS TIME.”

Ford’s statement came on the heels of a Wednesday press release from Nathan Slovis, DVM, DACVIM, CHT of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute outside Lexington.

Dr. Slovis’s statement reads:

“Over the weekend of January 18 and 19, a horse was presented with neurological signs and fevers to Dr. Barry David with McGee Medicine Center at Hagyard
Equine Medical Institute. At the time of this occurrence, the patient was quarantined in our isolation facility. At the same time, the farm imposed a voluntary heightened biosecurity at their facility (not imposed by the state). The Kentucky State Veterinarians Office had been consulted and no further action
was required at that time.

“The patient has had sequential negative testing for Equine Herpes Myelitis on whole blood and nasal swabs from multiple laboratories. Currently, the patient
has responded appropriately to medical therapy and has been discharged back to the owners care. The self-imposed quarantine at the farm has been “lifted”.

“Our hospital works closely with the Kentucky State Veterinarians office in regards to infectious diseases. Currently, there is no validity of horses dying at
the patient’s farm from an unknown contagious disease.

“At this time, we have no elevated disease concerns in the Lexington area or elsewhere in the State of Kentucky.”

At first glance, this must seem like a non-story. Why all the fuss about a disease that never happened?

You can read all sorts of rumors on the Internet,whether on chat rooms or in the fine print on Facebook. Most of the time, they do no harm, even if inaccurate reports are irresponsible. But when it comes to rumors of disease, it’s a much bigger problem.

Right now, the horse breeding industry in the USA is in high gear. The first Thoroughbred foals of the year are arriving, mares are being shipped to stallions, the January sales are wrapping up and there are horse vans everywhere. The show season is heating up in Florida, Arizona and Southern California so competition horses are shipping to or between those shows in search of points and prize money.

A disease outbreak is disastrous, both to the horses it affects and to the equine-related commerce it shuts down. Farms and racetracks can be shut to incoming or outgoing horses. Shows and races can be cancelled. Other states can forbid entry of any horses that have been in a disease-affected state. Horse breeding and equine sports are seasonal endeavors; if you miss the chance to breed a mare because of a quarantine, it might be another year before she can be bred, since Thoroughbred regulations give favor to foals born early in the calendar year. Going down the line, the result is a drop in the incomes of veterinarians, farriers, grooms, van drivers and anyone who makes their living even indirectly from the horse business.

The Jurga Report makes a valiant effort to provide information about disease outbreaks, when there is an official proclamation from a state agency confirming that the disease does in fact exist in the state.

Some states are much better than others in being proactive about disease alerts. It’s frustrating to try to track down the information, even with the help of Internet, Google and alert networks. The problem is compounded by the fact that some equine diseases are not considered “reportable” in all states.

So if you’re thinking of showing a horse in a given state next month and hear a rumor of a contagious disease outbreak, you may or may not get the information you need from a state website. Some vet practices are excellent about passing along alerts and quarantine updates on their websites. Others have abandoned their websites in favor of Facebook, but the information that they post, if any, is just as likely to be entertaining as informative.

And that’s how rumors get started.

Any disease-related information you read here will be linked to a source and will probably not paraphrase what the state authorities say. Their words will usually be in quotes to assure accuracy.

When you hear a rumor, always look for an authoritative source. If you’re concerned about diseases, use Twitter to monitor alerts from states and veterinary clinics. Know who to contact in your state. Check The Jurga Report and TheHorse.com and racing publications like the Daily Racing Form and the Blood-Horse, since they monitor news closely. Look for links to official news sources.

The worst of all rumors are the conspiracy theories that assume that veterinarians and state authorities want to keep information under wraps. Chances are, they are waiting for test results to be verified or cleared, and are holding their breaths just as horse owners are. But, as this week’s case shows, the culprit with a sick horse is not always a contagious disease.

In the meantime, figure that “no news is good news” applies to horses in the most true sense of the old saying.