Suburban farms guard against virus that's killed horses in Bartlett

The suburban equestrian community took precautions Friday to protect horses from the equine herpes virus that a state agency says has affected at least eight horses at Bartlett's Sunset Hill Farm.

Two horses at Sunset Hill have been euthanized, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The farm's co-owner, Georgette Litchfield, said earlier Friday that three horses died there in the past week, but it is not known if they all had the virus.

Another horse at the farm, which houses 35 horses at 8N190 Naperville Road, became sick with a fever, Litchfield said, and was tested. After a nasal swab and blood work were conducted, it was confirmed Thursday the horse had the strain of the virus identified as EHV-1.

By then, two horses “were already disposed of and cremated,” Litchfield said, calling the test results “extremely heartbreaking.”

Litchfield said the staff is not sure how the virus reached the farm.

“In my 60 years, I haven't seen this here,” she said. “We're at a loss right now trying to figure out where it came from.”

Area farms were notified of the virus and many issued voluntary quarantines with hopes the virus would stay contained. The virus can spread through the air, contaminating equipment, clothing and hands, which can then spread it to other horses. It poses no risk to humans.

Less than five miles from Sunset Hill, Forest Trails Stable in Bartlett implemented a voluntary quarantine Friday.

Owner Rita Hankins says all of the stable's 40 boarded horses are healthy, but visitors will likely not be allowed on the grounds for a vet-recommended 21 days.

“No horses are moving in or out of the stable,” Hankins said.

Jaynesway Farms in Bartlett is closely monitoring who and what comes in that farm at 5N080 Route 59, owner Maggie Jayne said Friday.

“Over the weekend we normally do pony rides, but we're really limiting access to our facility until we find out more,” Jayne said.

Jaynesway houses 60 boarded horses, 20 lesson horses and 30 ponies.

The farm's veterinarians have told the staff what to look for and how to monitor horses at the farm for the virus, which can cause respiratory disease, abortion in mares, neonatal foal death, and/or neurological disease.

John Arnold, manager of Ravenna Farms in Gilberts, said the farm will be under a self-imposed quarantine until word comes out that the threat of the virus has passed.

“We will not be shipping our horses to any shows or any other locations until we're pretty sure this thing is taken care of,” Arnold said.

Ravenna Farms houses 79 horses, including 19 therapy horses.

Lauren Lechtanski, the owner of Chestnut Hill Farms in Sleepy Hollow, said her farm, along with likely everyone else in the area, is taking precautions.

“The safest thing to do is to stay put,” Lechtanski said. “I'm not concerned that any of my horses will get sick.”

She said in addition to not allowing any new horses to enter or taking any of the horses off the farm, her vet will be vaccinating the 32 horses on the farm.

Sunset Hill was placed under quarantine by state animal health officials. Litchfield said the farm is following the protocol as set forth by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

The department has recommended the horses' temperature be taken twice a day, and all must be fever-free for 21 days before the state can start talking about lifting the quarantine, department spokeswoman Rebecca Clark said.

Clark adds that as far as the state knows, the virus has not spread to any Illinois stables outside Sunset Hill.

The EHV-1 virus is not a reportable disease, so local veterinarians are not required to report cases to the state. The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says the incubation period of EHV-1 is one to 10 days, and typically signs are seen in horses within three days.

In severe cases, horses will be unable to stand.

Cases of the virus have been confirmed in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Pennsylvania this month, according to Equine Disease Communication Center.

Litchfield said the classic way for the virus to spread is by a horse contracting it from another horse at a show.

“But we haven't had anyone at a show since September,” she said. “And we haven't had any new horses come in.”

The farm is working with two veterinarians and the state veterinarian to investigate the case.

Updates on the virus are reported by the state on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website.

• Daily Herald staff writer Doug T. Graham contributed to this story.

  Less than five miles from Sunset Hill Farm, Bartlett's Forest Trails Stable reports all of their 40 horses are healthy, but the stable has implemented a voluntary quarantine. Rick West/
  Horses peek out of their stalls at Ravenna Farms in Gilberts. The farm, which houses 79 horses, is under a self-imposed quarantine after hearing of an outbreak of the EHV-1 virus at Sunset Hill Farm in Bartlett. Laura Stoecker/
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