Horse Herpes Won't Stop Races at Turf Paradise

Turf Paradise remains open for business, despite a suspected case of equine herpes virus that has resulted in Arizona officials issuing a 21-day quarantine for the popular West Phoenix track.

On Thursday, the Arizona Department of Agriculture announced that it had imposed a quarantine on horses going in or out of the track, after one horse suspected of having the virus had to be put down.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Laura Oxley tells New Times that the euthanized horse was one of three from New Mexico recently transported to the track.

Last week, New Mexico officials issued a quarantine on certain racing facilities in that state because of several confirmed cases of the virus. But by then, the three New Mexico horses were en route to Phoenix, according to Oxley. 

"Turf Paradise did everything right," says Oxley. "As soon as they came in, the horses were isolated."

Oxley explained that the virus, which is not communicable to humans, is highly contagious among horses and can be spread via horse-to-horse contact, through shared feed and water buckets, and even can be airborne. Caretakers can transmit the virus if their hands or clothing are contaminated.

The effects of the virus can be devastating, causing severe neurological damage that results in a horse's inability to rise and walk properly. Oxley says the horse that was put down had been exhibiting such neurological symptoms.

Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms tells New Times that the other two horses have not exhibited symptoms and so far have tested negative for the virus. 

He characterizes the quarantine as a "precaution" and says races at the track will continue as usual. He also claims the quarantine will not affect his business.

"All our horses are there for the season," he explains of the 2,200 thoroughbreds stabled at Turf Paradise. "They don't leave till May." 

However, no horses from outside the 60-year-old venue will be admitted in during the quarantine.

According to Oxley, the public should be safe. In other words, people can't get herpes from a horse.

 "Even if you kiss it," offers Oxley, adding, "It's not a people virus."
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons