Montrose and Delta counties have two of the highest case counts of Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) of any locale in Colorado, according to information recently released by the Colorado State Veterinarian’s office. Delta had 27 cases and Montrose had 19 reported to the Colorado state veterinarian as of Sept. 3. There have been 192 cases reported statewide. The disease has spread to six more counties in the past week. All but two of the cases were equine with single bovine cases reported in Delta and Boulder counties.

To cause even more concern, three horses have tested positive for West Nile Virus in Colorado. All three cases are on the Front Range. Montrose and Delta counties have gone free of any horses testing positive, though there have been several cases of humans contracting the mosquito-born virus on the Western Slope. One 36-year-old Montrose County resident died this past month after contracting the disease last year.

Meanwhile, three nearby states, Nebraska, Texas and North Dakota, have reported cattle with anthrax. The cool, wet spring and the dry hot summer created the right conditions for the dormant anthrax bacteria to emerge from the soil. Cattle feed on contaminated hay and grass and either ingest or inhale the germs.

There is a vaccine that will protect horses from West Nile and there is a vaccine available to protect livestock from anthrax. There is no such vaccine for the VSV infection. Producers need to keep a close watch on their herds for any symptoms of these three problems.

Understanding VSV

Right off, VSV is not normally fatal to the infected animal. It is, however, very painful and in advanced cases quite debilitating to the animal. It does cause the animal to limit or stop drinking and eating. From exposure the incubation time is two to eight days. After onset, the disease usually “runs its course” which takes two to three weeks. Once the lesions stop growing, it may take weeks for them to disappear. VSV can affect horses, cattle, sheep, swine and goats. Only on rare occasions have humans contracted VSV. That has occurred when the individual came in contact with the animal itself, their feeding and water troughs or by handling tack.

Often times, VSV mimics the symptoms of Foot and Mouth (FMD) disease, which was eliminated from the U.S. in 1929. Highly contagious, it still exists in a number of other countries. While the USDA and FDA are always on guard against its return, it could happen. That gives another reason to report and test animals that show VSV signs.

How do you tell if your stock has VSV? A horse (horses are not susceptible to FMD) or cow will most likely begin showing VSV signs with small lesions, vesicles, and erosions on the lips, tongue, ears, lower fetlocks, udders and possibly genitals. The cosmetic abnormalities may look quite benign early on, but they turn into large, nasty and painful sores. The livestock also may slough skin and lose some hair. Lameness and weight loss usually occurs.

Should an animal(s) develop the signs, the stock should be tested immediately, and the case reported to the state vet’s office. The infected beast immediately should be separated from the other stock. The entire herd may well be quarantined.

How an animal is exposed to VSV is still somewhat of a mystery. The Colorado state vet’s office, however, states that the main suspects are vectors like black flies, mites and biting midges. Based on that, one of the first things to implement is vector control. The Colorado Ag department has released a list of practices that can help livestock managers avoid an infestation.

Strict fly control is an important factor to inhibit the transmission of the disease.

Avoid transferring feeding equipment, cleaning tools or health care equipment from other herds.

Colorado veterinarians and livestock owners should contact the state of destination when moving livestock interstate to ensure that all import requirements are met. Contact information for all state veterinarian offices is available at the Colorado Agriculture website.

Colorado fairs, livestock exhibitions and rodeos may institute new entry requirements based on the extent and severity of the current VSV outbreak. Certificates of veterinary inspection (CVIs or health certificates) issued within two to five days prior to an event can be beneficial in reducing risks. Be sure to stay informed of any new livestock event requirements.

With the fall season full of livestock events, like fairs and horse shows, the care taken by owners to make sure their stock is healthy and cannot communicate VSV is a high priority. If you have any doubt whatsoever about your livestock’s health, avoid shows, rodeos and fairs.

There are a few other measures that are easy to take to protect your livestock. Those include, being sure that your farrier and other equine professionals who come into direct contact with your animals and exercise due care so as not to spread the disease from one horse or facility to the next. Anyone who must handle infected livestock should take care to handle healthy stock first and infected animals last.

Care and Feeding

of a VSV Patient

Just eating can be painful for animals with VSV. So, like a human with tonsillitis, soft food may reduce the discomfort and allow the animal to chew and swallow, to take nutrition. On the other hand, if the animal is having trouble drinking water, dehydration is a danger and it may need intravenous fluid input. Further discomfort can be reduced by providing anti-inflammatory medications, which may make it possible for the animal to continue to eat and drink.

There is a concern that the sores can fester and bleed, which can lead to bacterial infections. Should those become septic the stock’s life could be in danger. Treatment with antibiotics may be needed in such a case. To avoid infections the animal’s mouth and other infected areas should be kept clean. Treatment with an antiseptic will help. Anyone who does this task should protect themselves with long sleeves, latex gloves and face mask to avoid contamination.

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