K-State Vets Seeing Outbreak In Horses

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Veterinarians at Kansas State University say they’re dealing with a large number of cases of an infectious disease in horses, caused by a bacteria found in the soil.

Dr. Laurie Beard, Clinical Professor for Equine Medicine at K-State’s Veterinary Health Center, says the staff at the facility has treated numerous horses with the illness, called Pigeon Fever, throughout the fall months and they continue to handle current cases.

“The most typical clinical signs that we see with the disease are abscesses which we refer to as external abscesses in muscles. The most common muscle that we see affected are the pectoral muscles and that’s why the disease is called pigeon fever because the pecs get big and swollen like a pigeon’s breast might be. We also see the abscesses in other muscle groups as well,” she explained.

The abscesses are lanced and drained.

“It’s certainly painful while they have the abscess and once we get it drained, the pain subsides,” Beard told WIBW.

The disease does not have a high mortality rate and is treated with anti-inflammatory medication. There have been rare cases of horses getting internal infections, Beard said.

Pigeon Fever is most commonly seen in the southwest and California due to the arid conditions which allow for the bacteria to thrive. Veterinarians believe that the unusually hot summer and severe lack of rainfall and continued dry conditions provided the perfect conditions for the organism to grow.

“We previously will have seen this once or twice a year. We’re seeing it in numbers that we haven’t ever seen it before and so we believe we’re seeing this organism because of the drought. We know this organism actually lives in the soil and grows in the soil for a number of months,” Dr. Beard said.

She says an animal can be infected with the disease for several weeks before displaying symptoms and that not much can be done to limit the spread because of the environmental factors at play.

“We don’t know exactly how it’s transmitted to horses. There’s been some evidence that it’s probably flies- flies that get contaminated with the organism, feed on the horses’ skin and then the organism enters the horse from that way… We’re certainly seeing it in horses in the Manhattan area. I know talking to other veterinarians in Kansas that they’re seeing it as well. We’re not the only place in Kansas, for sure,” she added.

The Veterinary Health Center has seen anywhere from 5-20 cases of Pigeon Fever per week during the outbreak.

The staff hopes that the cold weather will help cut down on the growth of the bacteria and that they will start to see fewer cases.