A How-to Guide for Vesicular Stomatitis

Horse lovers, hold on tight.

Colorado, New Mexico and Texas are in the midst of major outbreaks of vesicular stomatitis (VSV), a contagious viral disease that can affect many animals, including wildlife, horses and even people. Although it is not life-threatening, the virus hurts the horse industry because veterinarians must report possible cases to federal and state animal health authorities. When a case of VSV is confirmed, the affected area or ranch is quarantined for at least 14 days, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).

Other states have VSV cases, but it is hitting Colorado, Texas and New Mexico the worst. As of August 19, an estimated 23 counties have been affected by VSV outbreaks in Colorado, two in Nebraska, 12 in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma, 35 in Texas, two in Utah, and five in Wyoming. This year’s wave of VSV infection continues to spread at a higher rate than the last outbreak in Colorado in 2014-15. The primary concern is if VSV will affect livestock because the virus shows symptoms similar to foot and mouth disease, a contagious and at times fatal virus that has not been seen in the United States since its last contained outbreak in 1929.

This year’s outbreak is taking place at one of the worst times of the year, when equestrian events and rodeos are picking up speed. As a result, many events have chosen to cancel to prevent the risk of further spreading the disease.

If you suspect your horse has VSV, check for these symptoms:

  • Blister-like lesions on the tongue, mouth lining, nose, or lips

  • Lesions can also be on the coronary band, udder, or sheath

  • Fever

  • Drooling or frothing at the mouth

  • Refusal to eat and weight loss (from not eating)

  • Inflammation in the foot if lesions are on the coronary band

For most VSV cases, no treatment is necessary. The virus typically runs its course within two weeks; however, the sores can take as long as a couple months to heal.

The AAEP provided a list of helpful tips on how to prevent VSV infections in horses.

It is important to take precautionary measures around a horse that possibly has VSV, since humans can contract the virus. The AAEP says owners should wear latex gloves and take care to not touch the affected area(s).

If you think you have VSV, the symptoms in humans are described as being similar to the flu, including headache, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Contact your physician immediately if you have these symptoms.

For more information, contact your local veterinarian.

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