The recent outbreak of the deadly neurological form of Equine Herpesvirus-1 has many horsemen concerned. While concern is understandable, by taking some sensible precautions you can minimize the risk to your horse. There is no fail safe way to prevent any horse from developing EHV-1. In
some recent cases, it was noted that the horses that became ill had not been exposed to any sick horses. Like in humans, who can develop shingles in later life stemming from a bout of chicken pox as a youngster, something similar can happen in horses.
The equine herpesvirus-1 can be found in three forms, the deadly equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy, which is the neurological form of the disease, rhinopneumonitis, a respiratory disease most common in young horses, and abortion in pregnant mares. A young horse that comes into contact with EHV-1 as a young horse may develop rhinopheumonitis and bounce back quickly to his previous good health. The EHV-1 virus though, can remain dormant in his system for years, or even forever. However, it can also become reactivated, through stress or illness, triggering an attack of the more deadly neurological form of EHV-1.
Fortunately, these cases are rare. More commonly, a horse that contracts EHV-1 does so through direct, nose to nose contact with an infected horse. Given this fact, and the fact that the EHV-1 vaccine that is given to prevent abortion in mares and respiratory disease does not seem to affect the neurological form of EHV-1, your best defense, as they say, is a good offense.
Good basic hygiene practiced by everyone that comes into contact with your horses is the best way to prevent the spread of EHV-1. Make it a practice not to share grooming supplies or bits. If you must use the same bit for two horses, wash it thoroughly between uses. While most horses have their own grooming kit, it is common, especially at shows or clinics, when you are busy, to use one towel to wipe faces, boots, etc, before entering the ring. This towel would be the ideal carrier of the EPV-1 virus as it wipes one horses nose, is stuck in a pocket, and then pulled out later to wipe off another face.