Equine Coronavirus (ECoV)

Historically, equine corona virus has been associated with gastrointestinal problems in newborn foals. However from 2012 to the present, an adult form has popped up all over the country. Leave it to a virus to adapt and find new ways to infect a host! Here is the 411 on Equine Corona Virus:

Credit: horses-with-coronavirus-often-need-iv-fluids.

What horses are at risk? This virus is non-discriminate- it can affect horses as young as 1 year of age all the way up to 32 years or older! Most commonly it affects older horses (in the late teens and twenties). Horses in a stressful situation (such as during transit, at a show, or moving to a new barn) are also at a greater risk of becoming ill.

How do horses get infected?By fecal-oral transmission. This means sniffing other horse’s manure piles, sniffing the manure cart, manure fork, or being touched by the unwashed hands of a person who has been in contact with these objects can infect a horse.

How long can it stick around in the environment? We really do not know for sure. Therefore, feces from suspect horses should be removed from the property altogether.

Is there a time of year that it appears to be more prevalent?  Equine Coronavirus has most commonly been detected during the cold weather months (in the Northeast areas) from November to May.

What are the signs associated with active infection?

  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Fever (usually 104 F or higher)
  • Soft “cow pie” feces, but rarely diarrhea
  • Mild colic (laying down; looking at sides)
  • Neurologic abnormalities (ataxia, depression, recumbency) – these occur secondary to having too much ammonia in the blood stream.
  • Low white cell counts on blood work
  • Low blood protein on blood work (called Hypoalbuminemia)

What are the chances that my horse will become sick if there is another horse in my barn with the infection?Many horses can be exposed to corona virus and not show any outward signs of illness. Their bodies can create an immune response and neutralize the infection. Studies show that anywhere from 20 to 60% of horses that are exposed to the virus will become clinically ill. 

Can my horse die from Equine Corona virus? Although some deaths have been reported, it is not likely going to kill your horse. Horses that die from it usually have problems from secondary complications such as dehydration, poor tissue perfusion due to low body water content, and blood borne bacterial infection secondary to the viral infection. Also, high blood ammonia levels are associated with neurological signs and may result in death.

How long does it last? Signs generally resolve in 1-4 days with supportive care and outbreaks typically last for about 3 weeks.

What does treatment involve? Affected horses are treated with Banamine and supportive care. Antibiotics are ineffective against corona virus because they do not treat viruses. Horses that are off feed or water or have severe diarrhea should be seen by a veterinarian and treated with IV fluids to prevent dehydration.

Is there a vaccine available to protect my horse from the disease? Not currently.

What can I do to minimize risk of infection? During an outbreak, affected horses should be isolated and handled/treated last or by separate personnel. In addition, stall cleaning equipment should be kept separate. Hands should be washed (or cleaned with a hand sanitizer) after handling affected horses, and stalls and equipment should be disinfected under guidance of a veterinarian. Separate boots should be worn with affected animals, and disinfectant foot baths should be used.

Early intervention is key – you do not want your horse to become dehydrated or develop high ammonia levels in the blood! Therefore, getting IV fluids on board early may be necessary, especially if your horse stops eating and drinking. Banamine can help keep the fever down and reduce harmful inflammation in the body- so get your vet out ASAP if your horse shows any suspicious signs.

See also: This report from the NYS Veterinary School at Cornell.

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