North Devon racehorse trainer Victor Dartnall confirmed yesterday that his yard had been temporarily closed due to the discovery of an outbreak of what is believed to be equine neurological herpes.
Mr Dartnall, whose stables are at Higher Shutscombe, near Barnstaple, is working closely with the British Horseracing Authority in an effort to keep the outbreak under control.
Equine Herpes Virus Type 1 Neurological (EHV-1) is a serious disease in horses involving inflammation of small blood vessels in the spinal cord and/or brain. It can prove fatal but treatments are available.
It can be transmitted through the air from respiratory infection; by direct or close contact between horses and by contact with contaminated equipment, clothing, or hands.
Horses with the disease have a weakness and paralysis of the muscles of the hind limbs that causes lack of coordination, gait abnormalities and the inability to stand up from a sitting position.
Mr Dartnall issued a statement saying: "Over the last few days we have suffered an outbreak of a neurological disease in some horses. Initial test results support the cause to be neurological herpes virus. We are working very closely with our vets and the BHA and we are hopeful that we have the situation under control."
He later tweeted to his thousands of followers: "Please bear with us at this very distressing time. We are doing our utmost for our horses and to prevent the spread of the disease."
Professor Tim Morris, BHA's director of equine science and welfare, commented: "We have been working with the trainer and his veterinary surgeon to ensure that the correct, robust security measures have been put in place.
"It is in theory possible that horses may have been infectious before the signs of the disease appeared.
"We have therefore contacted racecourses to alert them to possible exposure but stress that the actual risk of transmission of this virus in a controlled raceday environment is relatively small.
"This emphasises the importance of trainers being vigilant for signs of disease. They should refer to the National Trainers Federation Code of Practice for Infectious Diseases of Racehorses in Training."