Utah horse owners are urged to limit travel to rodeo events and take other precautions, now that Nevada has reported multiple cases of an often-fatal neurological virus in equine animals.

"These recently reported cases are with horses that have traveled in junior high, high school, and professional circuits,” Barry Pittman, the Utah state veterinarian said in a news release Thursday. “We aren’t clear on all the specifics of the potential exposures in Utah, but awareness, vigilance and reporting are important right now as we continue to trace origins and review potential contact that may have occurred.”

Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) is usually spread by direct horse-to-horse contact through the respiratory tract and nasal secretions, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). It can also move indirectly through contact with physical objects that have virus contamination, and remain on them between seven and 30 days.

Symptoms can include fever, decreased coordination, urine dribbling, loss of tail tone, hind limb weakness, leaning against objects to find balance, lethargy and inability to rise.

Agriculture officials in Nevada quarantined three horses that tested positive for the virus after the state’s high school rodeo in February in Pahrump, in the southern part of the state, the Associated Press reported.

“We’re advising horse owners to limit travel with their horses if possible," Pittman said. “Check ahead with rodeo or event personnel for any known cases or exposures at their facility; practice active biosecurity; don’t share tack, feed or water buckets, grooming equipment, stalls or trailers; and always clean and disinfect all of the previous on a regular basis.

Owners with a horse that has been exposed to the more serious form of EHM and is exhibiting symptoms are urged to contact their veterinarian and should report to the State Veterinarian’s office if they suspect EHM."

More information about EHM can be found here: https://ag.utah.gov/documents/EHM_brochure.pdf

There are nine forms of EHM worldwide, UDAF explained, but only three are a health risk, and one form or another is found in nearly all horses by two years of age with little or no side effects.

The most concerning form, found in Nevada, is fairly rare, and equine experts and veterinarians have not concluded why some contract it and others don’t, Pittman noted.

There are treatments for EHM, but they are not always effective, and vaccines are limited in helping prevent the virus.