Area veterinarians and horse enthusiasts alike are encouraging horse owners to take precautions with their animals with equine infectious anemia in the area.

Jim Boy Hash, Garden City Community College’s rodeo coach, said Tuesday that he contacted the Kansas Department of Agriculture about his concerns as he has more than 20 student athletes with horses coming from various locations in and out of the state. He said he was concerned because the first quarantine facility, from what he had heard, is located “just down the street” from where the rodeo team practices at the Finney County Fairgrounds.

According to the KDA's Division of Animal Health, as of Tuesday, the number of horses in southwest Kansas that had tested positive for EIA was up to nine, with another two having tested positive for equine piroplasmosis. KDA officials have said all of the cases of EIA are linked to an informal horse racing facility in rural Garden City, but haven't specifically identified it by name or location.

Hash first found out about the EIA outbreak about the time his athletes were starting to bring their horses to town for fall practices.

“I just kind of advised them that if they haven’t brought their horses yet to leave them at home, and it’s up to them,” Hash said, adding that he hasn’t cancelled or changed practices for his team since the EIA discovery. “We’re trying to keep the manure hauled off as much as possible. I just told them to keep their horses sprayed for flies… We’ll try to keep fly control as best as we can and pray for the best.”

EIA is described by the KDA-DAH as an incurable, infectious viral disease that can be transmitted by blood-contaminated syringes, needles and surgical equipment, or by transfusion of infected blood, biting flies and mosquitoes. The disease does not infect people, but it can be spread to horses, mules or donkeys. Symptoms include fever, anemia and edema.

Prior to the current breakout, Kansas had nine horses test positive in the past 10 years, according to the KDA.

Suddenly, there have been nine in the past month. Seven have tested positive for EIA in Finney County, with two others confirmed in Kearny County. Two horses have tested positive for EP, one each in Finney and Haskell counties. EP is a tick-borne protozoal infection in horses and it can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of EP range from acute fever, inappetence and malaise, to anemia and jaundice, sudden death, or chronic weight loss and poor exercise tolerance. EP affects horses, mules, donkeys and zebras.

Hash said the likelihood, just from what he’s been told from vets, people and his personal studies, of horses contracting EIA is not high.

“At least people here are testing. There’s probably been more testing done in this area in the last couple weeks than there has been in the last several years,” he said.

One of Hash’s rodeo team members, Liberal sophomore Brett Blackwood, said EIA should be taken seriously. He has been diligent in caring for his horses, which he brought to Garden City for rodeo season about two weeks ago.

Blackwood has been spraying his horses with fly spray constantly and has hung fly traps in the pens where his horses live.

“That’s just some of the ways I’m trying to go about keeping the flies low in my pens,” he said. “You just take care of it and do what you can and try not to worry about it too much. I mean, the threat is still there, but you have to stay cautious about it. Don’t let your guard down because that’s when stuff happens.”

Blackwood also is encouraging horse owners to get their animals tested. The test done for EIA is commonly called a Coggins test.

“You need a Coggins to know if you’re positive. If it comes back negative, awesome, keep your horses there and keep them safe,” he said. “If they’re negative, do the right thing and put them down because we don’t need it spreading anymore. We don’t need this getting around anymore than what it is. It’s bad enough as is.”

According to the KDA website, all positive horses have been humanely euthanized.

Vets weigh in

State, federal and accredited veterinarians performed contact surveillance testing that confirmed 33 exposed horses on five different premises where positive horses were found, all of which are under official quarantine pending retest in 60 days, according to the KDA.

All horses within a half-mile surveillance zone surrounding the racing facility were tested, and no additional positives were detected in that zone, according to the KDA.

Vets in Garden City are also doing additional Coggins tests, including The Animal Hospital, 1908 U.S. Highway 50. For more information, call (620) 275-9228.

Metzen Veterinary Clinic, 2710 Taylor Plaza in Garden City, also is offering the tests and can be contacted at (620) 805-5028.

Veterinarians at both facilities were not available for comment as of press time Friday.

Kyle Berning, veterinarian and owner of Western Plains Vet Clinic in Lakin, said that he has seen a large number of horses being brought in for testing.

Before it was officially announced there was EIA in Kearny County, Berning received phone calls from horse owners, and since then his office has been receiving more than 10 phone calls a day inquiring about getting horses tested, he said.

“We’re testing a lot of horses, which is good,” he said.

As of Tuesday, Berning said there have been 150 to 160 horses tested.

“There’s a lot of people wanting to get them tested," he said. "A lot of that is feedlot horses, and it’s from a liability standpoint because those horses are important to the feed yard industry, the cowboys having to check cattle and ride. That’s a big investment for these feed yards is quality horses.”

Berning said he has been advising horse owners to to keep their animals isolated and not move them to other areas, and to practice biosecurity.

“It purely just depends on what they do with their horse,” he said. “Those same people that are taking them around riding out in the country or going to recreational roping or pinnings on the weekends are getting them tested just to make sure,” he said. "I told them that they shouldn’t go to any of these recreational events where if they don’t meet you at the gate and say ‘Do you have a current Coggins?’ I wouldn’t go in because you’re opening yourself up to a horse in there that possibly slipped through the cracks somewhere and could have an exposure.”

The state requires an annual Coggins test for horses, Berning said, adding that he suggests horse owners get a current one and another one in six months.

“I keep telling everybody that bio-security and keeping yourself isolated is the main thing because it’s not like it's transmitted really easily between horses,” he said. “Really, people just need to calm down for about 30 days. If you don’t have to move your horse, leave it put. And if you’re not bringing it around other horses, you’re not going to get it.

The KDA has established an EIA page on its website at www.agriculture.ks.gov/EIA, where any future positive cases resulting from the investigation will be posted. The public will be notified of updates to that webpage via the KDA Twitter account, @KansasDeptofAg.

Horse owners who have concerns about their animals’ health or questions about possible exposure should contact their local veterinarian. For more information about EIA or other animal disease issues in Kansas, go to the KDA Division of Animal Health website at agriculture.ks.gov/AnimalHealth or call (785) 564-6601.

A public meeting has been set for 6 p.m Sept. 18 in the Grandstand Meeting Room at the Finney County Fairgrounds, 409 ½ Lake Ave. in Garden City to educate local horse owners  about EIA. During the meeting, Smith will share information about the surveillance and testing that has taken place following the initial positive EIA cases.

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com