GRANTS PASS, Ore.– On Thursday, weeks before the first races of the summer, the Josephine County Fairgrounds received some shocking news – a horse that was being set up to race tested positive for Equine Infectious Anemia.
An incurable disease that causes fever, anemia and can result in death, officials at the fairgrounds have related the disease to the AIDS virus in humans. This finding caused an immediate reaction, both from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the fairgrounds, with an issue to quarantine and separate the infected horse from others.
With the stalls quarantined, horses have been unable to leave until the entire facility has been given the green light from state health officials.
“It’s always worrisome because there is always a slight risk of risking other horses and stuff,” said Rod Lowe, director of racing at the fairgrounds. “It is a risk and I’m glad we found it.”
According to Lowe, the virus is only spread through blood making it less easy to spread. But because flies and mosquitoes come in abundance, the facility isn’t taking any chances.
Private owners using the fairgrounds were notified immediately and were told their horses couldn’t leave. Trainer Dennis Hurley called it worrisome but has his fingers crossed no more cases appear.
“Yeah they tested a whole bunch of horses today,” he said. “Took blood and sent it back to the lab and hope that’s the only one that’s got it.”
So far, 30 to 40 horses have been tested out of around 80 horses in the facility. However, officials are only testing those that were in the vicinity of the infected horse.
According to Lowe, the Department of Agriculture has been trying to locate this horse for several years. Originating from a farm in Washington, the seven-year-old mare has eluded officials until now.
“They’ve been looking for this horse for a long time,” said Lowe. “This horse has not been on a sanctioned race track all of it’s life.”
Since the fairgrounds is a sanctioned race site, required tests helped in the uncovering of the infection.
Lowe says it’s unclear whether the current owner’s knew the horse was infected as they may have received it from someone else who was racing it in unsanctioned races or it could have been born by a mare carrying the virus.
He says state officials think the quarantine will be lifted by next week.
“[State] thinks that this is going to be a very quick turnaround for this, he said. “The horse has been here for a very short period of time. [State] doesn’t expect any of the other horses to be infected.”
In the mean time though, horses are allowed to come into the facilities at the owner’s discretion. However, they won’t be allowed to leave until the quarantine is lifted, which facility officials expect to be by next Wednesday.