Herpes scare at Laurel appears to have ended

The Baltimore Sun

The equine herpesvirus scare at Laurel Park appears to be over. The Maryland Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that "all 25 horses in Laurel Park's Barn 1 have tested negative for the neurologic form of equine herpesvirus [EHV-1] on a second round of tests."

The results conclude a situation that began two weeks ago, when a 2-year-old filly showed signs of the condition Nov. 12 and tests confirmed she had the disease. The filly was euthanized Nov. 15.

Yesterday's announcement of the favorable test results was accompanied by the lifting of all restrictions on horse movement at Laurel Park. The Department of Agriculture removed its hold order on Barn 1 that prevented the movement of horses there, and the Maryland Jockey Club also lifted its ban on horses leaving the track.

The day the filly showed signs of EHV-1, the agriculture department placed a hold on the barn, and two days later, the jockey club prohibited horses from entering and leaving Laurel (with the exception of horses from the Bowie Training Center that were brought in by shuttle). That restriction was recently relaxed to allow horses into Laurel to race but on the condition that they not leave until the Department of Agriculture lifted the hold order on the barn.

"Everything will get back to normal," MJC racing secretary Georganne Hale said in a release announcing the lifting of track restrictions. "With turf season ending last week, we have a number of trainers who would like to take those horses to the farm for the winter."

Hale said Laurel Park would begin taking entries for runners from Fair Hill Training Center and other jurisdictions for Saturday's card. The lifting of the ban will also allow trainers at Laurel to race elsewhere.

In all, nearly 60 horses at Laurel were tested over the past two weeks, and all, with the exception of the filly who was euthanized, tested negative for the virus.

"Today MDA and Maryland Racing Commission veterinarians examined all 25 horses in Barn 1, confirming that all appear healthy, and we lifted the hold order," state veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus said in a statement. "We are pleased and relieved that this situation ended so quickly."

Hohenhaus urged horsemen to remain vigilant and take preventive measures.

The virus causes upper respiratory infection and can cause severe neurological problems in horses, but there is no known human health risk. It is of major concern to the horse industry because it is contagious.

In January 2006, an equine herpesvirus outbreak that started at Pimlico Race Course and spread to Laurel Park and two other sites in the state resulted in six horses being euthanized and 19 others becoming ill.

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