Next fall, the people who pull into the back of the long-term parking lot at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will see an unfamiliar sight — a huge complex of covered stables stretching across the blacktop.
As many as 600 horses will be in the stables, having flown from their home countries to temporary quarantine facilities at the airport. They are required to stay for at least 42 hours before completing the journey in horse vans to the Kentucky Horse Park for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The 42-hour stay allows for blood to be taken, shipped to the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, and tested for several contagious diseases. Once the horses are cleared, they will be put on a horse van and driven to the Horse Park.
"The piece of property we chose was based on the fact that it provides us the best opportunity to have the horses in a comfortable environment with the level of security that everyone expects," said Rusty Ford, the equine programs manager with the state veterinarian's office. He has been a liaison between the World Games organizers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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The World Equestrian Games, the international championships for eight disciplines, will take place in Lexington from Sept. 25-Oct. 10, 2010.
The temporary facility will be set up so horses, which are usually quarantined at a permanent facility in Newburgh, N.Y., wouldn't have to land there, then make a second trip, either by plane or horse van, to Kentucky.
Horses from Asia will be quarantined at a permanent facility in Los Angeles and those from South America will stay at similar facilities in Miami. South American horses have to stay isolated for seven days because of Venezuelan equine encephalitis and screwworm. Horses from Los Angeles and Miami will fly directly to Blue Grass Airport after quarantine.
All of the equestrian teams participating in the Games travel with their own veterinarians and grooms, who will be with the horses at the quarantine sites.
The Northern Kentucky site will open on Sept. 16 and stay open until the last horse is gone, Ford said. If horses travel to the United States much earlier than that, they will have to stay in quarantine at the New York facility.
"We're constantly monitoring communicable diseases," Ford said.
The Cincinnati airport is providing the space, but the World Games will build the stables, said airport spokeswoman Barb Schempf.
"We've been teaming up with them on logistics, but they're doing the hard stuff," she said.
Kate Jackson, the Games' competition director, said there will be attending vets and security at the complex 24 hours a day. They're still deciding whether to send the blood samples to Iowa with a courier service, or to hire someone to take the samples there in person.
The quarantine is aimed at blocking the transmission of several dangerous equine diseases, including:
■ Dourine, a parasitic venereal disease that has no vaccine, can cause abortions, is incurable and fatal.
■ Glanders, a bacterial infection that can also be transmitted to other animals and humans. Because it is highly contagious, takes very little to infect and is fatal if it gets into the bloodstream, the Centers for Disease Control considers the bacterium to be a possible bioterrorism tool.
■ Equine infectious anemia, a blood-borne virus (related to HIV) that is transmitted by biting insects. No vaccine or treatment exists when a horse gets "swamp fever."
■ Equine piroplasmosis, caused by tick-borne protozoa. It causes jaundice, fever and anemia. It is fatal about 20 percent of the time; no vaccine exists, but it can sometimes be treated.
The reason South American horses have to be held for seven days is that Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, caused by a mosquito-borne virus, devastates the neurological system and can spread to humans. It has not been reported in the United States since 1971, but outbreaks in South America in the 1990s killed more than 100 people and hundreds of horses.
Screwworm is a flesh-eating parasite that caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to U.S. livestock before it was eliminated in 1960. It attacks warm-blooded animals, including humans, and maggots of this fly eat living flesh. In recent years, screwworm has been detected on both animals and people entering the United States from Latin America, including a horse shipped to Miami from Argentina.