Equine herpes outbreak prompts strict health protocols - Tucson News Now

Equine herpes outbreak prompts strict health protocols

Equine herpes health protocols will stay in place at Rillito Park through its upcoming month-long meet. (Source: Tucson News Now) Equine herpes health protocols will stay in place at Rillito Park through its upcoming month-long meet. (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The Rillito Park Race Track will be open for horse racing this weekend under some of the most stringent health protocols ever for the horses.

A horse at Turf Paradise in Phoenix was recently diagnosed with equine herpes, leading to a nearly month-long quarantine of all horses there.

In order to prevent the spread and ensure the horses in Tucson do not suffer the same fate, no horses are allowed at Rillito Park without a medical evaluation and a vaccination.

"The horse owners are required to take the horses' temperature both morning and night," said Jenn Smith, an Oro Valley veterinarian technician who was hired to administer the protocols.

All veterinarian work is conducted away from Rillito Park property to ensure no infected horse are on the grounds.  

If a horse needs a vaccination, it cannot go on Rillito Park property for seven days to allow the vaccine to become effective.

"If they have a temperature of 101.5, we tell them to turn around and go home," Smith said. 

So far, only one of nearly 150 horses has had an issue. It was later evaluated and determined to be healthy, but is still not at Rillito Park. 

"An elevated temperature is the first indication that something may be wrong," Smith said.

A horse can run a high temperature without being ill, but the track will take every precaution this year because of the herpes case. The outbreak appears to have started in Texas where several horses have been diagnosed. The occurrence of one case can be called an outbreak, according to health officials. 

The quarantine in Phoenix will be lifted next week. It was put into effect on Jan. 29.

Many of the horses that are currently in Phoenix will likely come to Tucson to run, but Tucson will continue with its health protocols.

"Even after the quarantine is lifted in Phoenix, we will keep our protocols in effect," said Jaye Wells, chairman of the Rillito Parks Foundation.

When asked if Rillito Park was being overly cautious, Wells said, "We think we should. We need to be part of the protocol program to nip it in the bud."

According to Smith, the health of the horses are Rillito Park's first priority.

Races start on Feb. 13 and will run every Saturday and Sunday through March 20.

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