Precautions for Promiscuity: Sex Ed for Mr. Ed, a Guest Post

 Imagine your top competition mare is successfully bred to an expensive stallion, but towards the end of her gestation, her foal dies in utero.  It would be devastating.  What legal recourse would you have if the veterinarian's autopsy determined the foals death was caused by EVA?
As a barn owner, what precautions must you legally take to prevent an outbreak of EVA among boarded horses?

In this guest post, Dr. Knopf examines the transmission and necessary precautions of EVA: Equine Arteritis Virus.

A little larger than a horse! Dr. Knopf examining local species in Rwanda.

Sex Ed for Mr. Ed*
By Dr. Knopf
Written for exclusive use by Ribbons and Red Tape Blog

Many horse owners would be horrified to know that the sweet mare or ornery stallion in the stall next door could be naively harboring a sexually transmitted disease. Not unlike what we learned in our middle school health class, horses can harbor and spread a variety of STDs, many of them with potentially devastating consequences for the equine community and economy.

One sexually transmitted disease is Equine Arteritis Virus (EAV or EVA). EVA is seen throughout the world and research has shown that many horses are exposed to the virus without showing any symptoms of illness. While EVA can have reproductive consequences such as late-term abortion, death in foals and persistent infection in stallions, it can also cause acute flu-like symptoms in any horse. Often the first symptom is a fever - this makes it difficult to distinguish from other flu like viruses. EVA is an interesting virus because it is spread both through respiratory secretions of newly infected mares and is spread through sexual relations with chronically infected stallions. It is thought that as many as 50% of stallions in certain populations are infected with this virus and these stallions may carry the virus for years. Yes, the stallion at your barn could very well have this virus, completely unbeknown to all its caregivers. EVA is a tricky disease to prevent and diagnose as the flu-like symptoms are common to many diseases and many horses carry the virus (and are spreading the virus!) with no outward sign of disease. The increasingly common practice of shipping semen around the world is contributing to the continued spread of this disease. Health education has the same principles across species – promiscuity equals increased risk of disease!

Many horse owners have heard of the equine herpes virus, especially in the wake of the recent outbreaks in our country. There are several different forms of the equine herpes virus, the neurological disease being the type most recently seen and covered by the media. However, there is a form of the equine herpes virus that is a sexually transmitted disease. Not unlike the herpes virus in people, equine herpes virus type 3 (aka equine coital exanthema) causes unsightly sores and lesions on the genitalia of the horse. These ulcers can sometimes be found on the lips and noses of affected horses. One interesting difference in this form of herpes versus the herpes in people is that horses don’t appear to shed the virus once the lesions have healed.

While Mr. Ed may not be interested in a lecture on sexual education, it is prudent as a horse owner to be aware of potential exposure to disease and the prevalence of many sexually transmitted viruses. Of course, abstinence goes a long way in preventing many of these diseases but, your surprise trivia for the day, equine condoms do really exist!

Two Updated Clarifications from Dr. Knopf:

1. Equine condoms can be used for semen collection in stallions that are not trained/not amendable to collection using a phantom.  The condom can be placed, the stallion is allowed to breed in a natural herd setting, the semen is collected and then can be used for shipment for artificial insemination purposes. Obviously this won’t be used in the TB industry, but AI is the standard for pretty much all other breeds.

2. EVA is not the same as EHV-1.  There have been quite a few recent outbreaks of equine herpes virus (type 1) but they are the neurologic form (which is much scarier and more deadly than any of the other forms of herpes).  EHV-3 is the ‘sexual’ herpes. EVA is a completely different virus, it is not a herpes virus, though symptoms can be similar across viruses.

Discussion of legal ramifications of an EVA outbreak to follow soon!

See Dr. Knopf's other blog posts here:

* Mr. Ed was a talking horse on a now discontinued American television show by the same name.  For my blog post on Mr. Ed, click here.