According to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1) infection in horses can cause not only the neurologic disease (Equine Herpes Virus Myeloencephalopathy, or EHM for short) that is in the news now, but also respiratory disease, abortion in mares and neonatal foal death. Viruses spread through the air, contaminated equipment, clothing (including boots) and hands.
A virus, according to Wikipedia, is a biological agent that reproduces inside the cells of living hosts. Once the host cell is infected by a virus, it is forced to produce many thousands of identical copies of the original virus at an astounding rate. Because viruses do not have cells that divide, the new viruses accumulate in the infected host cell. Viruses are found wherever there is life and have most likely existed since living cells first evolved.
Viral infections are usually eliminated by the body’s immune system which protects against disease by identifying and killing pathogens and tumor cells. Detection of viruses is complicated as the pathogens can evolve rapidly, adapting easily to avoid the defenses of the immune system. When the immune system is not functioning properly, recurring and life-threatening infections can result. How can horse owners help protect their horses and build up their immune system?