(The Canadian Press)

‘Worst of the worse cases:’ Alberta horse owners on alert for outbreak of fever

An outbreak of the Potomac horse fever has been declared in Alberta

Sue McIntosh thought her horse, Finnegan, looked a bit off, so she rushed him to a veterinary clinic a couple of weeks ago.

The 13-year-old horse was diagnosed with Potomac horse fever, a disease that kills horses in up to 30 per cent of cases.

An outbreak of the illness has been declared in Alberta.

“He was in critical care for three days and then he was there for another couple of days on IV with his ice boots on,” says McIntosh, who runs a horse therapy program at Cremona, northwest of Calgary.

“It’s not just our family that’s affected, because people are very connected to these animals and they were worried.”

Finnegan recovered and was sent home, where he nuzzled with McIntosh during a recent interview.

The Moore Equine Veterinary Centre, just north of Calgary, treated Finnegan and several other horses with the illness.

“The ones that we see are typically the very sick horses,” Dr. Gillian Haanen says while checking on a patient. Fluid dripped into the horse from two large clear bags connected to the ceiling of a stall.

“Treatment is trying to kill the bacteria with an antibiotic, lots of fluids,” Haanen says, adding boots filled with ice are also put on the horse’s hooves to help with inflammation.

“In the more serious cases, they kind of go into this downward spiral where they’re not feeling well. So those horses generally need aggressive treatment.”

Potomac horse fever produces mild colic, fever and diarrhea in horses of all ages, as well abortions in pregnant mares.

The bacteria lives inside snails, slugs and aquatic insects, such as mayflies and caddisflies. Horses eat the bugs while drinking water or eating hay or grass.

Infected animals can lose up to 100 litres of fluid per day.

The disease was first identified in 1979 in the eastern United States near the Potomac River, but it has since been identified in various other locations in the United States, as well as in Alberta and Ontario.

“You might have clusters of cases and that’s what we’re really seeing in Alberta this year,” says Dr. Ashley Whitehead, a senior equine specialist at the University of Calgary.

“At the clinic I worked at, we’ve probably had about 16 cases come in the last two months. And that may not seem like too much, but it’s a significant amount. Because we’re seeing the worst of the worse cases.”

Whitehead says the university is participating in a study at the University of Guelph, which is looking into a second bacteria that can also cause the illness.

Some horses appear to be more susceptible to getting the fever, says Whitehead. It could be something that disrupts the loads of bacteria in a horse’s gastrointestinal tract.

“Anything that changes that harmony ends up causing the potential for something else to get in and overtake it,” says Whitehead.

“Anything that stresses the horse can change that bacterial population in there.”

Jennifer Maciej has her own theory.

Maciej lost a horse, Sultan, to Potomac horse fever five years ago.

“It was absolutely horrific. He went from the diarrhea, depressed, not wanting to eat and all of that,” she says from her home east of Edmonton.

“You could see the emotion. You could tell that he was still there. But the third time I went and saw him, he was done. It was like, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m done fighting.’”

Maciej says horses are attuned to the emotions of their owners. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been upset in their personal lives.

“We’ve got a lot of people that are stressed, especially this year with COVID. And when people are stressed, it transfers over to the animals. And they can only take so much,” she says.

“It’s like with people, we’re more susceptible to getting sick when we’re stressed. I believe animals are exactly the same.”

Although horses can get a form of coronavirus, there’s been no record of equine cases of COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2020.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Albertahorse

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

(Photo submitted)
Rimbey resident avid author despite Parkinson’s

Wins more accolades for her writing

“Pumpkin” is available for adoption at Old MacDonalds Kennels. (Facebook photo)
Old MacDonald Kennels sounding the alarm over number of cats in care

An expansion is underway at Old MacDonald Kennels

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

A man runs across the Carcross Dunes in Carcross, Yukon, on July 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘No manual or checklist:’ Yukon ditching fall time change this year

The territory decided to adopt year-round daylight time in March

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains makes an announcement regarding vaccine procurement, in Toronto, on Wednesday, Aug., 5, 2020. Despite its status as an artificial intelligence hub, Canada has yet to develop a regulatory regime to deal with issues of privacy, discrimination and accountability to which AI systems are prone, prompting calls for regulation from businesses and experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Canada crawling toward AI regulatory regime, but experts say reform is urgent

5 million images of shoppers collected without consent at Canadian malls

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie "The Name of the Rose" at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

He died peacefully in his sleep overnight in the Bahamas

<strong>Spooky spectacles:</strong> Halloween decorations seen around Ponoka. Photos by Karen Douglass
PHOTOS: Ponoka ready for Halloween

Spooky spectacles: Halloween decorations seen around Ponoka. Photos by Karen Douglass By… Continue reading

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

(Pixabay photo)
Spoooky, scaaaary: The ultimate Halloween-in-quarantine playlist

All the costumes, trick-or-treating and spooky-season fun is essentialy off the table due to COVID-19

Most Read