By: Julia Deng
PECOS COUNTY - Three horses in Pecos County tested positive for vesicular stomatitis, a highly contagious virus that mimics foot-and-mouth disease and also affects cattle, according to Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) officials.
This is the first confirmed case of vesicular stomatitis this year in Texas.
The horses are kept at premises approximately 30 miles north of Fort Stockton and were taken to a local veterinarian after the owner observed blistering and swelling on the animals' tongues and lips. Testing conducted by the USDA National Veterinary Services lab in Ames, Iowa later confirmed the New Jersey serotype of virus in the horses.
The owner was not identified by TAHC. It's unknown what type of contact the horses may have had with other people or livestock. The virus can be spread by insect vectors and contact between animals and humans.
"Vesicular stomatitis doesn't kill horses, but this is very concerning because it has the same symptoms as foot-and-mouth disease," explained Midland veterinarian Dr. Tita Burnham. "In Texas, our economy really is supported by the beef-cattle industry. If somebody dropped foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) on us, it would be a pretty big deal."
Cattle are often killed to prevent the spread of FMD, she said. USDA reports describe the disease as a "worldwide concern" responsible for "significant economic losses."
FMD causes severe symptoms in cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer and other animals with divided hooves, but does not affect horses, dogs or cats.
"The good news is those horses [in Pecos County] don't have FMD, but animal-owners are all on alert because of [the vesicular stomatitis diagnoses]," said Burnham. "If a cow in Pecos County showed up with vesicles on its tongue, everybody would freak out. There's no way to distinguish between [FMD and vesicular stomatitis] without getting tested."
She recommended monitoring livestock for any changes in behavior, appetite or appearance. Any swelling, discoloration or ulceration - "basically anything that doesn't look like nice, pink gums" - should be reported immediately to a veterinarian, said Burnham. Vesicles commonly appear on the gum-line and surface of the tongue.
"Texas had its largest vesicular stomatitis outbreak in history last year, and we must remain vigilant in protecting our livestock industry in 2015," said Texas' State Veterinarian, Dr. Dee Ellis.
This year's first case was detected in New Mexico on April 29. Subsequent vesicular stomatitis diagnoses have also been confirmed in Arizona and Utah.