About 50 horses from a raceway in southwestern Ontario are in isolation after coming in contact with a horse diagnosed with a highly contagious and serious disease.
The three-year-old standardbred filly, which was housed in the stables at Leamington Raceway from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6, has been infected with strangles — an illness caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi that causes fever and nasal discharge.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said it was made aware of the case on Aug.12 and that horses from three barns have been placed in isolation.
"The length of the quarantine period will depend on how the disease progresses" or the number of cases in a week, reads an emailed statement from an AGCO spokesperson to CBC News.
Leamington Raceway just kicked off its 2020 season on Aug. 9.
"Really it's almost like a horse-COVID," said Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, who is a board member on the Lakeshore Horse Racing Association.
According to a document from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, strangles is rarely fatal, but it can lead to complications that result in severe disease and euthanasia.
As a result, the AGCO is reminding horse owners to "remain vigilant, institute appropriate bio-security measures and consult their veterinarians for advice."
Bain said he joined a meeting with a top vet from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLGC) Friday, who went to the stables to assess the situation.
"Certainly everyone is very concerned," Bain said, adding that to his knowledge this has never happened before at the Leamington stables. "[The veterinarian] met with us, outlined steps to do, keep a good eye on all of our own horses that are out there."
Bain said the infected horse is in isolation on a farm. Meanwhile, all of the other horses have been restricted from leaving their stables at Leamington Raceway and are undergoing testing.
Because of this, Bain said there will be horses missing from Sunday's races. The horses must test negative in order to participate in future races, he added.
The strangles-infected horse likely got sick after being in the same trailer as an infected five-year-old standardbred gelding in the Greater Hamilton area at the Emerald Isle Training Centre, which was confirmed positive for strangles on Aug. 7, says the commission's press release.
The Hamilton training centre has had three cases, one of which is the horse that was stabled in Leamington, AGCO confimed.
At this time the AGCO said it continues to monitor the situation and has taken the following measures:
Informed Leamington Raceway, trainers of horses stabled at Leamington and trainers who purchased or claimed horses stabled at Leamington since Aug. 1 about possible exposure.
Recommended that horses be monitored closely for signs of the disease.
Recommended increased biosecurity measures for the industry to take, especially for exposed horses.
Working with Leamington Raceway officials and infectious disease expert Dr. Scott Weese at the University of Guelph to determine next steps.
Has advised trainers to take temperatures prior to shipping horses to any racetrack paddock.
Has advised associations to check temperatures prior to any horse entering a paddock until further notice.
"I think we're pleased that it was able to be discovered quickly before it did spread seriously," Bain said.
"All of the horsemen in the three barns that are at Leamington Raceway are in total co-operation and working with the local vets to combat the problem."