Turf Paradise remains under quarantine after horse virus outbreak at New Mexico racetrack

The quarantine at Turf Paradise is scheduled to end Feb. 18.
(Photo by Mallory Price/Cronkite News)

Veterinarian Greg Byrne said that Arizona horses are not at risk for the virus.
(Photo by Mallory Price/Cronkite News)

A trainer walks a pony at Turf Paradise on Wednesday. All horses at the facility are in quarantine.
(Photo by Mallory Price/Cronkite News)

Horses at Turf Paradise racing facility remain under quarantine after a highly contagious equine virus led officials to euthanize an infected horse brought in from New Mexico, according to Turf Paradise officials.

Vincent Francia of Turf Paradise and a Valley veterinarian said there is little chance of the virus spreading in Arizona and horse owners have no reason to worry because the virus is contained at the racing facility.

Turf Paradise remains open and operational during a four-week quarantine required by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Horse are not permitted to enter or leave the racetrack. The facility boards more than 1,700 other horses, Francia said, and races continue to go on.

Two other horses that arrived at Turf Paradise from the New Mexico racing facility in late January have been isolated, he said. The quarantine ends Feb. 18.

The Equine Herpes Virus starts with a fever and then muscle weakness that leaves a horse unable to stand, said Greg Byrne, a Valley veterinarian who has treated horses with the virus.

“Typically, they sit like a dog,” Byrne said. A respiratory strain of the virus is common, much like a cold is for humans, he said, but the neurological strain is more deadly.

Acting State Veterinarian Sue Gale said in a news release symptoms include fever, nasal discharge, wobbly gait and hind-end weakness.

“If horse owners notice these symptoms, they should contact their personal vet,” said Dr. Gale in a statement from the Arizona agriculture department. “If veterinarians see a horse with these symptoms, they need to report the case to the state veterinarian.”

Horses can recover from the virus on their own, Byrne said, if their immune systems are strong enough. Expensive antiviral drugs also can be given immediately after symptoms appear.

The virus does not harm people but they can easily spread it on clothes, materials or equipment that comes into contact with an infected horse.

“Don’t use the same brushes, don’t use the same halters, don’t use the same buckets, rakes. They’re all separate. You want to quarantine them,” Byrne said.

The racetrack has not been economically affected by the quarantine since it remains operational, Francia said, but horse owners may have been impacted.

“Some of the horses, which are now quarantined, they were scheduled to leave Turf Paradise and go to other racetracks for races. They can’t do that now,” said Francia. “Horses that wanted to come in here to race, they cannot come in here until the quarantine is lifted.”

Francia said the remaining two horses from New Mexico continue to be monitored but have not tested positive or exhibited symptoms of the virus. The facility plans to send the two horses back to New Mexico after the quarantine is lifted, he said.

“There would be a risk, even though the two horses tested negative, there would be a risk of letting them back in the horse population and that is a risk we’re not willing to take,” Francia said.