More Fla. horses have rare disease

BRADENTON, Fla. — Four additional horses in Manatee County have tested positive for a rare horse disease thought to be eradicated in the United States since 1988, state agriculture officials have confirmed.

All four horses were on the same farm and stable mates of the 7-year-old gelding who was first diagnosed with equine piroplasmosis, a tick-borne disease. The gelding had to be euthanized three weeks after falling ill, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reports.

Although blood tests on the four additional horses were positive, all of the animals are healthy and none has exhibited symptoms of the disease, said Terence McElroy, Department of Agriculture spokesman.

The Manatee County farm, which officials have declined to identify, is under quarantine as the State Veterinarian’s Office continues its investigation to determine the source of the disease and whether it has spread beyond the immediate area.

”We believe the gelding was a chronic carrier that got ill,“ McElroy said. ”The other horses may have been infected through the use of a common needle to give injections. Many horses are carriers and don’t display symptoms of the disease.“

The investigation so far has not found any of the exotic ticks that carry the disease, McElroy said.

”That’s a good sign,“ McElroy said. ”There is no indication that there is any spread beyond this single premises.“

Equine piroplasmosis is widespread in Mexico and throughout Central and South America. Agriculture officials say it’s possible the sick gelding was an imported horse that carried the disease into the country.

The only way the disease can be spread is through a tick bite or the use of a common needle or sharing of blood, McElroy said.

Still, the presence of the disease concerns Anne Prince, co-owner of Prince Farm in Palmetto, Fla., which trains and shows more than 80 quarter horses.

”My concern is if the disease is found in more than one horse and the entire county is quarantined,“ Prince said. ”We have many horse-related businesses in Manatee County. That could hurt us.“