Midwest Horse Fair carries on despite recent horse disease cases - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Midwest Horse Fair carries on despite recent horse disease cases

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Over the next three days more than 50,000 people are expected to attend the 35th Annual Midwest Horse Fair at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Hundreds of these horse owners spent were already in town on Thursday registering their horses and unpacking their equipment. This year they were also forced to check in with organizers regarding the health of their horses.

Fair organizers say the EHV-1 virus, commonly called horse or equine herpes,  is something they talk about every year, but now more than ever it's a major concern.  Two cases have been confirmed in Wisconsin in recent weeks and six additional cases have been confirmed in Minnesota.

"Some people are pretty nervous about it, because it's a deadly disease with no real cure. It's a virus, so if you catch it, it's not very good," horse owner Nancy Osterhaus says.

Nancy and her husband Wayne both live in Columbus Wisconsin. They've been coming to the horse fair for years. This year they were concerned about the recent news about EHV-1. The virus attacks horses differently depending on the strain, but mostly it causes respiratory problems and is sometimes fatal.

"We take precautions. We do some shots and stuff prior to bringing them down so they have a little extra in their immune system. They have a little more protection," Wayne Osterhaus says.

Organizers of the event are doing the same by asking all owners of sick or weak horses to leave them at home. Their weakened state makes them more susceptible to the virus.

"We've only had about 10 percent of our registered horses not show up. We still have lots of horses here," Midwest Horse Fair General Manager Rhonda Reese says. "The disease doesn't change a thing in terms of what's going on at the fair this year. We've just added additional measures to keep these horses safe."

To protect the visiting horses, organizers have assigned veterinarians to be on the grounds at all times. They're also stopping every horse trailer that comes into the fairgrounds. Owners are given a brief questionnaire to fill out so workers can get a little information about the horses health. Owners are also given a thermometer so they can frequently check their horses' temperature. Lastly, they're given a bottle of hand sanitizer because even though the disease is harmless to humans, it can be transmitted from the owners to their horses.

"We just want to be safe. We're still going to have a good time and show off our horses, but we want to make sure they stay healthy," Reese says.

The overall likelihood of getting the disease is pretty rare. There are more than 180,000 estimated horses in the state of Wisconsin. Only two confirmed cases of the disease have been found this year. However, organizers say that with so many horses in such a small area they don't want to take any chances.

"With these precautions, I think everybody will be fine. We're all just being careful with our horses," Nancy Osterhaus says.

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Madison (WKOW)-- To date two confirmed cases of EHV-1 have been cited in  Wisconsin. In Minnesota, six horses have also been diagnosed with the disease which is commonly referred to as "the equine herpes virus." Organizers with the Midwest Horse Fair sought advice from the Animal Health Division of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Official Event Veterinarians from Irongate Equine Clinic to decided whether or not to keep the event going this year. Organizers were concerned for the safety of participating horses.

The fair will continue as planned going from April 11th-13th at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Organizers have taken additional measures to insure the health of visiting horses. Extra cleaning will be required for all horse stalls. Additional hand sanitizing stations have also been installed . Experts say the equine herpes virus is harmless to humans, but germs can be picked up and transferred to horses. They're asking all fair participants to wash or sanitize their hands as often as possible. They're also asking owners to limit horse to horse contact. The virus can easily travel from one animal to another by simple contact.

Organizers of the event have also purchased thermometers so owners can frequently check their horses' temperature. The primary symptom for EHV-1 is a fever. Organizers are also advising owners with sick or weak horses to keep them at home. These horses may be more susceptible to the virus.

EHV-1 is a neurological disease that can cause weakness and paralysis in muscles and hind limbs. A few of the recent cases in Wisconsin and Minnesota have led to owners being forced to euthanize their animals.

Stay tuned to WKOW 27 News at 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. for more information




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