Cases of “equine strangles” at Roanoke Valley Horse Rescue mean no visitors or new horses.
By Duncan Adams
Two new outbreaks discovered Monday of a disease that is both common and highly contagious among horses led Roanoke Valley Horse Rescue to continue the voluntary quarantine of its facility in Hardy for at least another 30 days.
The nonprofit first initiated the quarantine July 5 after five horses were determined to be suffering from “equine strangles” — a disease caused by a bacterial infection. Symptoms include nasal discharge, fever and enlarged lymph nodes that can become abscessed.
During the quarantine, no horses leave the property, no new horses come in and no visitors are allowed.
The disease sounds worse than it often is. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, “most horses with infection recover without complication.” As of Monday, 12 of the rescue center’s 33 horses had the disease, said Pat Muncy, executive director.
No horses there have died from equine strangles, she said, though complications associated with the disease can sometimes be fatal.
“There’s no treatment, per se,” she said. “They run fevers and begin to get abscesses and we keep them clean.”
She said the all-volunteer staff works to cool horses suffering high fevers.
The AAEP’s overview of the disease reports that “antibiotic therapy remains controversial for the treatment of strangles.” Horses that weather the disease develop an immunity to it, according to the association.
Muncy emphasized that equine strangles is not something humans need to fret about catching. But people can be a source of transmission between horses. As in, if a visitor rubs a sick horse’s nose and then rubs the nose of a healthy horse, bingo. Muncy said she believes, based on several circumstances, that someone who had recently handled horses sick with the disease visited the center and unknowingly introduced it there.
Francois Elvinger is a professor of epidemiology in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.
“The agent of equine strangles does not cause disease in humans,” Elvinger said. “Strangles occurs so often we would know if it was a threat to humans.”
Founded by Muncy in 2002 on 21 acres in Hardy, Roanoke Valley Horse Rescue works to find homes for horses that might have been abandoned, injured, neglected, seized or otherwise left in distress.
Muncy said the organization is still arranging adoptions for horses that have never visited the center. And the Franklin County center is accepting volunteer applications and donations.
The rescue’s website, www.rvhr.com, contains a wish list.
These days, the center gallops through supplies of disinfectant cleaner and related cleaning goods.
And the horses are segregated into three groups: those that have had the disease and gotten over it; those that are currently sick; and, those that haven’t been infected.