AN OUTBREAK of equine herpes in Hampshire has led to the death of four horses, sending equine centres into shut down across parts of the south of England.

Crofton Manor Equestrian Centre, near Stubbington, has been in quarantine since the first case of equine herpes virus (EHV-1) was confirmed on Tuesday, January 7. Ten horses have subsequently tested positive for the virus leading the centre to make its own decision to instigate a ‘lockdown’.

On Sunday Crofton confirmed four of its horses had been put down and all horses residing at the centre have been tested. The statement read: “While we are still waiting for all of the blood tests and swab results to come back from the laboratory, we can say that the majority are coming back negative. We would like to clarify, and reiterate, that the first case wasn’t confirmed until the evening of January 7.”

The virus can be transmitted through the air from respiratory infection or by close contact between horses and can lead to neurological problems which can result in paralysis.

The EHV-1 organism spreads quickly from horse to horse and can cause respiratory problems, especially in young horses, spontaneous abortions in pregnant mares, and the neurologic form of the virus can result in death.

The Animal Health Trust is aware of the outbreak and has commended Crofton’s swift management of the situation: “Currently the extent of the infection and exposure among resident horses at the centre is unclear until sampling and laboratory testing is completed over the next few days,” said AHT director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance, Dr Richard Newton.

“We recommend that veterinary advice should be sought regarding releasing horses from isolation following sampling and laboratory testing. We would encourage all horse owners to maintain good biosecurity practices and be aware of the clinical signs of EHV-1 infection. These can include a raised temperature, inappetence and lethargy, nasal discharge, coughing and in some cases neurological signs that may range from slight hindlimb weakness through to recumbency and inability to stand.”

With many riders travelling far and wide to attend competitions, many show centres have made the decision to cancel and temporarily close due to fear of cross contamination.

Blue Barn Equestrian Centre in Kent was among the venues to announce restrictions last week on horses attending who had visited Crofton. On Monday, January 13 they stepped their precautions up a gear by announcing that all shows, clinics and arena hires have been cancelled.

A spokesperson for the centre said: “If no other cases are confirmed and it appears that the disease has been contained then we will review the situation with a view to re-opening next week. We are many miles away from the disease location, but affiliated riders travel far greater distances than unaffiliated ones and having evaluated all the facts as we have them, the potential for cross-contamination was just too great for us to take the risk.”

Other venues including Tweseldown and Sparsholt Equine Centre in Hampshire, Wellington Riding School and BCA Equine Shows and Events in Berkshire, Pyecombe at Brendon Stud in West Sussex, Merrist Wood Arena and Parwood Equestrian Centre in Surrey, are closed owing to the outbreak.

It is not yet a year since equine influenza was reported in an English racing yard in February 2019. The British Horseracing Authorities were quick to intervene and order a six-day shutdown of race meetings and 174 stables were placed in quarantine.

However, unlike equine influenza which led to infected horses not being able to train or race for several weeks, equine herpes can lead to fatality and life-long health problems. Official action has not yet been publicly announced regarding an effort to minimise the risk of transmission, for now individual centres such as Crofton are instigating a lockdown on their own accord.