So, if you’re not a horse person, or if I am somehow your only source of horse news, you may be unaware that there’s an outbreak of EHV-1 in western North America right now. If you read this blog, you probably already know that.
I’ve been looking for numbers on this outbreak since it started, but it’s only today that I started to find firm ones. I wanted to try to quantify the actual risk. News sources only talk in vague terms – the disease is highly contagious and fatal. They tell you how many have died, but not how many were exposed. How highly contagious? How fatal? That gap in the information really pisses me off.
To be fair, part of the problem is that the vets just don’t know. Tbe equine herpesviruses are, they think, largely asymptomatic. Most horses have antibodies to them without ever showing signs of being infected. And when they do show symptoms, they only shed the virus for a short period of time – apparently it’s hard to “prove” a horse has EHV.
My first questions are how virulent and how fatal is this outbreak? Any googling at all will tell you running totals on how many horses are confirmed to have EHV-1 / are confirmed dead of EHV-1, but that’s kind of useless. How many were exposed? You have to have both numbers to get a percentage. Here’s (pdf) yesterday’s USDA situation report. It’s the only document I’ve seen so far with numbers of horses exposed. It’s also really fascinating! Look at Texas – 26 exposed at the Ogden event, 323 exposed secondarily, ONE death. Versus California – 54 exposed in Ogden, a totally unknown number exposed secondarily, five deaths.
As of yesterday, there were 997 horses exposed (primarily and secondarily, not including California). 21 were confirmed to have EHV-1, and 13 of the 21 had neurological symptoms. Personally, I’m rounding that up a bit and calling it a 1.5% chance of Dixie dying if she’s exposed to a sick horse.
(There’s a new article on thehorse.com with slightly increased totals, but it doesn’t have corresponding increases in exposed horses. Ffffff so frustrating! The new cases in WA are secondaries, exposed at the vet hospital. There are 8 new cases in CA, but they’re all fever-only, not neuro. I’m not changing my 1.5% based on that.)
You might think that’s all you need to know. Maybe it is. It’s not enough for me, though. I’ve read a lot of hysterical content online about how any risk at all to our precious ponies is too much. They do so much for us and how could we possibly be so selfish as to risk their needless deaths! Just stay home and don’t be an asshole.
Here’s my problem with that: we’re killing them every time we ride. We’re killing them every time we feed. We’re killing them by ignoring them. You cannot win. There’s no way to Do It Right and make sure your horse lives forever. If everything you do carries a risk, you should at least know those risks and try to decide if it’s worth it.
The main cost to keeping Dixie at home for two more weeks is that I’ll be bored. (Poor me!) I’m also missing out on opportunities to train her – we can go slog on through training rides in our backyard, but they’re not the same mentally as organized endurance-type events. That’s it though. The “don’t risk your pony” people are right about that – there’s not much cost to me keeping her at home.
But, regardless, I’m going to a NEDA ride tomorrow. The actual risk is much much lower than 1.5%. There are no cases in Nevada. At the ride, there are no vet checks and it’s only 20 miles, so I can insist that she drink our water from the trailer. This is a really great opportunity for a good training ride, in all senses of “training” – trailer somewhere, deal with race environment, stand tied at the trailer for a while. Since I’ve seen the data and worked through the risk, I’m ok with it.
Longer term plans: Wild West has been rescheduled for the end of June. If NASTR doesn’t cancel/reschedule, I might do NASTR then Wild West three weeks later. G’s coming home for Memorial weekend, then I’m going to SF for our anniversary in mid-June.