When it comes to the recent diagnosis of equine herpes in Gallatin County last week, officials urged simple precautions over panic at a fairgrounds gathering Thursday evening.
"There's always going to be disease in the equine population. This is just one of many," said Dr. Tahnee Szymanski, a staff veterinarian with the Montana Department of Livestock. "It's still a relatively rare disease. I'd take some precautions and not worry too much about it."
Last Saturday, the DOL confirmed the herpes virus in a 15-year-old gelding that had been at the Ogden, Utah, cutting horse show where an outbreak of the disease is believed to have begun. The horse has not shown any symptoms of the virus - which can range from a mild fever to sever neurological problems - and has been isolated since it returned from Utah.
Officials said tests for the disease can be hard to interpret, because most horses are exposed to mild forms of it during their lifetime. It is unknown if the horse ever posed a risk of spreading the disease, Szymanski said, and she expects the horse to be confirmed non-contagious later this month.
Dr. Bill Layton, director of veterinary diagnostics with the livestock department, told the crowd of about 40 that simple precautions such as not borrowing other people's tack and being aware of who is touching a horse could go a long way in protecting horses from being exposed to the disease.
"You have to have some sort of bio-security when you bring these horses back to the barn," he said.
People at the meeting said the news of the outbreak - which has led to 19 horses across the country being euthanized - has had an effect on those who travel with their animals.
Rod Cline with the Circle L Arena in Belgrade said an event he held last weekend saw one-fourth of the participants it usually does. He asked the state to do more to get out the word that bringing a horse to Gallatin County does not pose a threat to the animal's health.
Szymanski said that the line people call to get travel certificates for their horses was quiet for four weeks after news of the virus began to spread. But she said she has gotten more calls this week.
"People are starting to move again," she said.
And a representative from the Montana Cutting Horse Association said her group was ready to go with a June 30 event in Lewistown.
"We're going on, business as usual," she said.
Daniel Person can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2665.