EHV-1 Questions & Answers

When was the FEI notified about the outbreak of EHV-1 in Valencia (ESP)?

The FEI Veterinary Department was informed by the onsite FEI Veterinary Delegate in the afternoon of 20 February that 11 horses had fever at the CES Valencia Spring Tour (ESP). Later the same day, the number had increased to 20.

The FEI was also advised of four cases of suspected Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1) in horses that had left the venue on 14 February and became sick shortly after returning to their home country (France). At least one of these horses was showing neurological signs.

With this combined information, the FEI concluded that this was an outbreak of the neurological form of EHV-1 and immediately told Organisers and onsite Officials to cancel the rest of the event in Valencia.

How did the FEI react?

The FEI reacted strongly and immediately as soon as we were informed of the sick horses on the venue in Valencia on 20 February. The FEI told the Organisers to cancel the rest of the event.

On the same day, the FEI informed the Organisers of the other Tours on the Iberian Peninsula of the outbreak and instructed them that they must not accept any horses that had been competing at Valencia.

A total of 752 horses that had competed in Valencia were blocked in the FEI Database, meaning that they could not leave Valencia and go to other FEI events until they had fulfilled the necessary testing requirements. As soon as this process had been completed, the FEI confirmed the identification of the Valencia horses to the Organisers of the other Tours on the Iberian Peninsula, and again instructed them not to accept these horses.

In addition, the FEI contacted National Federations with athletes and horses that had participated at Valencia since 1 February 2021 outlining the measures that had already been taken and the measures that they personally needed to take to help prevent the further spread of this virus.

To help alleviate the very difficult situation for athletes, owners and grooms with horses still on the venue in Valencia, the FEI requested – and received – agreement from the regional veterinary authorities to allow five additional veterinarians onsite to treat the affected horses and additional medical supplies to be delivered to the venue. We also requested a detailed plan from the regional veterinary authorities on the treatment of sick horses, management of the outbreak, and the plan for getting healthy horses off the venue.

On 1 March 2021, due to the rapid evolution of the virus, the FEI cancelled international events in 10 countries on the European mainland on 1 March 2021 with immediate effect and until 28 March 2021. This was specifically to minimise movement of horses and therefore reduce the risk transmission of the virus.

How many horses have died as a result of this outbreak?

The total number of equine deaths in this outbreak can be found on the EHV-1 homepage, which is updated regularly with the latest figures.
Details and dates of the equine fatalities in this outbreak are recorded in the timeline on the EHV-1 hub.

When will the horses who are currently in quarantine in Valencia be permitted to leave? Will all horses be tested prior to departure?

All horses will be tested prior to departure. The Spanish Veterinary Authority has put protocols in place, including multiple testing, that will be applied to all horses.

Is this a previously unidentified strain of the virus?

Since this outbreak, the FEI has been working with leading epidemiologists, including EHV specialists Professor Ann Cullinane (IRL), Dr Richard Newton (GBR), and Dr Gittan Gröndahl (SWE). Professor Cullinane is the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) expert in EHV and Head of Virology at the Irish Equine Centre, one of only two OIE Reference Laboratories in the world for EHV.
Work on identifying the gene sequencing of this strain of the virus is already underway, and the FEI is continuing to monitor the evolution of the virus through the FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group, which was formalised the week of 8 March 2021. The Group is composed of world-leading EHV specialists, the FEI Veterinary Director and FEI Senior Veterinary Advisor, supported by the Chair of the FEI Veterinary Committee. Reports and recommendations from this Group will be published on a weekly basis.

The FEI has also asked all National Head Veterinarian to provide data on any cases in their countries so that Professor Cullinane can contact the relevant laboratories that have confirmed cases of the virus in order to study its genetic characteristics. Professor Cullinane has already advised that in order to ensure the best PCR testing, EHV kits should be PCR or LAMP tests and that laboratories testing PCR samples must comply with ISO17025 or similar.

In addition, there is a research project planned to start in Sweden this year headed by Dr Gittan Gröndahl that will focus on identifying the different strains of EHV. The information from that research will be able to tell us if this is a new and previously unidentified strain of the virus, or simply just a more aggressive form.

Why are some PCR results described as inconclusive? What does that mean?

In order for a laboratory to conduct a thorough analysis of a sample, a number of criteria have to be fulfilled, for example the volume of blood provided. If this is insufficient, it is not possible for the laboratory to accurately determine whether a horse is positive or negative.

Why did the FEI cancel international events in 10 countries in mainland Europe?

The FEI cancelled international events in 10 countries on the European mainland on 1 March 2021 with immediate effect and until 28 March 2021 due to the rapid evolution of the virus.

The FEI Veterinary Department, supported by leading epidemiologists, undertook a thorough risk assessment in order to take and advise on correct preventive measures. The science provided by the epidemiologists was clear – stopping competition for four weeks was the most practical way of preventing the further spread of this terrible disease.

Slowing down movement and interaction between horses and horse people is crucial as this is how this virus is spread. If everyone adheres to the measures, including in their home stables with isolation and reporting any sick animals to their veterinarian, we will minimise the possibility of transmission and reduce the length of the current outbreak.

Why were there exceptions for the Jumping Tours?

This decision applies to all FEI disciplines, but we also needed to prevent huge numbers of horses simultaneously leaving the Jumping Tour venues in Spain, Italy and Belgium, so as these specific Tours had been ongoing for a number of weeks, they were allowed to continue as individual “bubbles” on the condition that absolutely no new horses were allowed to enter the venues and no positive cases of EHV-1 were confirmed. In the current outbreak, even a suspected case is a cause for concern.

Cancellation of the Jumping Tours would have resulted in athletes and grooms rushing to get their horses off the venues, potentially without waiting for the required health certificates, and therefore posing a serious biosecurity risk that could have been avoided by allowing these events to continue.

The FEI required stringent sanitary protocols to be in place at the Jumping Tours, with additional veterinary oversight, including for departures from the venues, so that these could be managed in a safe and biosecure way.

What is the difference between a standalone event and the so-called Tours?

Tours are multiple Events run on consecutive weekends at the same venue, and usually horses are based at that venue for the duration of the Tour. There is normally the possibility for a horse to be entered for just some of the shows during the Tour, but in order to maintain the biosecure “bubble” concept, only horses that were already onsite and had been based at the venue for a number of weeks were allowed to compete. No new horses were allowed to enter any of the Tour venues.

Why did the FEI initially decide on a four-week period?

The FEI agreed with leading epidemiologists that the 28-day period offers reasonable risk mitigation.

The incubation period of EHV-1 is between three and 14 days, but horses can shed the virus beyond 14 days without having clinical signs, so the four-week shutdown takes the nature of this disease into consideration.

EHV-1 is normally a slow-moving virus within the equine population, but the spread will increase if there are more sick horses in one place, hence the apparently rapid spread through the horse population in Valencia.

Our community is very diverse, including its travelling patterns, which means that it is difficult from both a national authority and FEI perspective to know whether horses are under strict isolation and care, which is why we will not reduce the 28-day shutdown period.

When will the FEI open up the sport in mainland Europe again? (updated 12 March 2021)

On 1 March 2021 the FEI announced a 28-day shutdown, with events on mainland Europe scheduled to restart on 29 March 2021.

However, on 12 March 2021 the FEI imposed a further two-week extension of the shutdown of all international events in mainland Europe until 11 April 2021 due to the ongoing outbreak.

Why did the FEI extend the shutdown for a further two weeks? (updated 12 March 2021)

The shutdown is aimed at minimising the further spread of the very aggressive strain of the virus. The decision was unanimously approved at an emergency FEI Executive Board meeting on 12 March 2021. The decision is based on detailed scientific risk assessment conducted by world leading epidemiologist Dr Richard Newton and the FEI Veterinary Department.
The extended lockdown applies to all FEI disciplines.

Why was it only specific countries? Why not impose a blanket ban across Europe? (updated 12 March 2021)

The 10 countries initially listed were the only ones hosting international events between 1 March and 28 March 2021, and this was increased to 11 with the extension of the lockdown. We additionally strongly recommended to the affected member National Federations in Europe that they also cancel any national events.

Why are all competitions shut down when this is only affecting Jumping horses? (updated 14 March 2021)

This is not a discipline-specific virus, it can affect all horses. One of the key methods to minimise the spread of the disease is to stop horse movement and to prevent gatherings of horses, whether those are competitions, training or breeding activities etc.

Why was the competition allowed to continue in Doha following the confirmation of a positive case of EHV-1?

The FEI received notification on the evening of 1 March that one of four horses that had travelled from Valencia to Doha (QAT) was showing clinical signs in the isolation stables and had tested positive for EHV-1. The horse was immediately transferred to the isolation unit of the neighbouring veterinary clinic, together with a second German horse that returned an inconclusive result and required retesting.

In order to fully assess whether the GCT/GCL event would be permitted to go ahead in Doha, the FEI Veterinary Department conducted a thorough risk assessment to evaluate the biosecurity measures already in place on-venue, focusing on the potential risk of viral transmission to healthy horses. As the four horses that had travelled from Valencia had been in isolation since 22 February, it was agreed to wait for the results of the PCR tests on all other horses on the venue.

Following further consultation with leading epidemiologist Dr Gittan Groendahl about the situation in Doha, the FEI agreed that competition could go ahead as scheduled from 4-6 March subject to a series of stringent conditions. However, the FEI reserved the right to cancel the event if there were any changes to the situation.

The conditions for continuation included maintaining strict isolation protocols for the four Valencia horses; twice-daily temperature checks for all competing horses; minimising all contact between horses; closing of treatment boxes, and treating/testing of horses permitted in the horse’s own stable under supervision of an FEI Official; daily calls between the FEI, the Organisers, relevant onsite FEI Officials and athlete representative Kevin Staut. The conditions also included confirmation from the Organisers that no sanctions would be applied against individual athletes or teams if they chose not to compete.

The FEI also insisted that the four horses that had been in Valencia would not travel back to Europe on the same flight as the other horses. This was confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture in Qatar.

If these four horses were on the same flight to Doha and were also in the same stables until they were moved into isolation on 22 February, was there a risk that the virus was transmitted to the other horses?

The horses travelled to Doha on 20 February and, on 22 February, as soon as the FEI had identified all 752 horses that had participated in Valencia, the four horses were put into isolation and were also blocked on the FEI Database. These four horses were tested negative for EHV-1 on that day and had no clinical signs. Following a full risk assessment, the FEI consulted with epidemiologist Dr Gittan Gröndahl (SWE) and all parties agreed that the risk of transmission on the plane and on the venue was negligible.

Two Colombian horses that had left Valencia on 6 February were retested in Doha on 27 February and again tested negative, but remained in the isolation stables. The two German horses, which had left Valencia on 12 February, were retested in Doha on 1 March, with one returning positive to EHV-1 and the second returning an inconclusive result. Both the German horses were transferred to the isolation unit of the neighbouring equine hospital.

All of the competing horses were closely monitored and none were showing any clinical signs, but as a precaution, all horses were tested. Analysis of all samples, including those taken from the four horses in isolation, was conducted by the official laboratory in Qatar. All of the competing horses tested negative.

Do the Doha horses have to quarantine? (updated 13 March 2021)

Following notification to the FEI that precautionary testing of a horse that had returned to its home stables in Belgium after competing in Doha (QAT) had come back positive to EHV-1, the FEI blocked all 85 horses that were competing in Doha and any other horses that may have been in contact with them. Athletes were advised to implement strict biosecurity protocols - including isolation - or equivalent measures as requested by their National Federation.

The horse was not displaying any clinical signs and a re-test has since returned negative, however the FEI was advised on 13 March 2021 that a horse in France - a close in-contact of the horse in Belgium - was showing clinical symptoms and had tested positive tor EHV-1 after returning from Doha.

What is the point of blocking horses in the FEI Database when all international competition is stopped until 11 April 2021? (updated 14 March 2021)

The athletes (and their National Federations) with horses that have been blocked in the FEI Database have been provided with detailed biosecurity protocols that must be implemented. In addition to keeping horses isolated and taking twice-daily rectal temperatures, a negative PCR test result taken after day 21 must be provided to the FEI Veterinary Department before horses will be unblocked and allowed to return to competition. If the test generates a positive result, the horse must remain in isolation for an additional seven days and be re-tested. This procedure is in accordance with the FEI Veterinary Regulations, Article 1029.7.

Does blocking in the FEI Database mean horses can’t compete nationally? (updated 14 March 2021)

The FEI can only block horses from competing in international events, but we have strongly recommended to all National Federations in mainland Europe that they cancel all national competitions in order to minimise transmission of the virus by horse-to-horse contact at events, including training.

Will the FEI make EHV-1 vaccination mandatory to protect against the neurological form of the virus? (updated 25 March 2021)

Three years ago, the FEI carefully reviewed the possibility of introducing mandatory vaccination against EHV-1, but there were no vaccines available at that time which would protect against the neurological form of the virus. That is still the case in 2021. Only when a vaccine is produced that is effective in providing protection against the neurological form of the virus and is readily available will we consider making vaccination mandatory.

The FEI Veterinary Epidemiology Working Group is checking the efficacy, availability and licensing of current vaccines, and the FEI is in discussions with the pharmaceutical industry about a future vaccine that will protect against the neurological form of the virus.

Although shedding of the EHV-1 and EHV-4 virus is reduced in the vaccinated horse, there is no scientific evidence that vaccination protects the individual animal against the neurological form of the virus, as has been shown in this terrible outbreak. Vaccinated horses have still become very sick and a number have died. In addition, there are currently very limited supplies of EHV vaccines available in Europe.

The FEI will require vaccination records to be provided for all blocked horses – the in-contact horses from the current outbreak – in order to further evaluate the severity of the horses’ clinical symptoms in relation to their vaccination status.

What about the FEI World Cup™ Finals? (updated 12 March 2021)

Sadly, the shutdown has resulted in the cancellation of the FEI World Cup™ Finals for the second consecutive year following the loss of the 2020 Finals in Las Vegas (USA) to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final and the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final were scheduled to be held in Gothenburg (SWE) from 31 March to 4 April 2021.

What will this further shutdown mean for athletes and horses that are still to achieve their MERs? (updated 12 March 2021)

The additional lockdown is crucial to slow down the spread of the virus so that we can preserve the rest of the season, get our athletes and horses back competing safely and allow as long a period as possible for those aiming for Tokyo to earn their Minimum Eligibility Requirements and confirmation results, and of course to prepare their horses for the Games.

Will the virus impact the Olympic & Paralympic Games in Tokyo?

The measures that the FEI has taken in cancelling events in mainland Europe for a total of four weeks and the biosecurity protocols in place once international events resume are designed to minimise the risk of transmission.

Horses travelling to both the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be closely monitored for 60 days prior to going into a seven-day quarantine ahead of the flight to Tokyo. This specific surveillance will include temperature checks, so any signs of fever would be noted very early on and the horse would be put into isolation. Additionally, all transport vehicles and the pallets that are used on the plane will all be scrupulously cleaned and disinfected prior to use and there are very strict biosecurity measures in place onsite in Tokyo.

Can horses return to a competitive sporting career after suffering from the neurological form of the virus?

Yes, often they can, but with horses that are more severely affected, there may be a lengthy rehabilitation process before they can fully return to competition.

I am very worried about my horse, who should I contact for advice?

Please contact your regular veterinarian. You should also contact your National Federation which has been provided with detailed information concerning this outbreak by both the FEI and the European Equestrian Federation, including biosecurity protocols. There is a huge amount of information available on the FEI’s dedicated EHV-1 hub.

What measures will be put in place for the future for horses travelling to FEI international events?

The FEI is currently in the process of drafting new protocols for return to competition, and the requirements that will be in place for every FEI event.