The Red Shores racetrack in Charlottetown is in a complete lockdown in an effort to control an outbreak of strangles.
About 200 horses at the track were tested late last week, and officials are now awaiting those results before deciding on further actions.
"We decided that to get a better understanding of what we're dealing with, and for heightened precautionary measures, that we would go into a lockdown for the grounds, which essentially means no horses coming or going for a time period," said Lee Drake, manager of racing, brands and broadcast divisions at Red Shores.
"We've only had two confirmed cases of strangles on Prince Edward Island. Those horses were removed from the barns and are undergoing isolation at this point, and we are conducting screening tests for all the horses that are currently on the grounds."
The cost of the mandatory testing is being covered by Red Shores, the P.E.I. Harness Racing Industry Association and the Atlantic Provinces Harness Racing Commission.
Strangles is an upper-respiratory illness that can cause swollen lymph nodes, nasal discharge and fevers in horses, donkeys and mules. While the illness can be fatal, most animals do survive.
It is highly contagious and spreads easily through nose to nose contact between horses, or even contact with people. If handlers get the bacteria from one horse on their hands, feet or clothing, they can pass it on to another horse.
A meeting was held on February 23 that included the Atlantic Veterinary College, Charlottetown Veterinary Clinic, Prince Edward Island Harness Racing Industry Association, Atlantic Provinces Harness Racing Commission and Red Shores.
The lockdown took effect two days later, with no additional horses allowed on the grounds until further notice.
"The next step is to to consult with the veterinarians — they are, of course, guiding us through this — and just get a better understanding of those results, the next steps," Drake said.
"I should say that's confidential, like a doctor-patient privilege, if you will, between them and their client [the horse owner]. And so they'll be guiding them, and updating us, on the next steps that are going to be taken."
Under the lockdown rules, horses will be allowed to leave the track property only if they have a clearance letter from a veterinarian.
During the lockdown, Red Shores says only essential workers will be allowed into each barn, and they must now follow strict biosecurity measures, including foot baths, brushes and disinfectant supplied to each barn.
Owners and trainers are also being encouraged to take their horses' temperature daily and log the results, and consult a veterinarian if they see any symptoms.
Drake said he can't confirm stories of strangles in other horses on P.E.I., outside of the racetrack.
"Whether you're based on track, or you're on a farm, you have a heightened awareness of what's happening," Drake said.
"Until we know more of what we're dealing with, every stable — whether you're either on the grounds here or off the grounds — should be doing the measures that the veterinarians have asked. And that is, keeping a close watch on your horses and doing daily temperature checks."
Meanwhile, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario says it has been informed that three additional horses tested positive for strangles in a barn at Shamrock Training Centre.
Restrictions were put in place there after a horse shipped from Prince Edward Island tested positive. It had just been transported from Red Shores on Sunday, Feb. 14.
Also, Truro Raceway has issued a statement saying that it will be restricting horses from P.E.I. because of the strangles outbreak.
"Any individual seeking to move a horse from P.E.I. to Truro will need the horse to have two negative strangles tests, conducted one week apart, prior to being permitted to enter the property," Truro officials said in the statement.
"We will continue to monitor the situation, and this will be our policy until further notice."
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