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  1. #1

    Heads Up!, Possible Botulism in SW Virginia area

    This has been on several lists, and we have rumor proofed it, So, be aware.

    This gets more urgent by the moment so I am posting everywhere and suggest cross posting. I am in SW Virginia, but this seems to be wide spread. As many of you know, we lost Whisper our PMU mare a week ago and had two other horses that we successfully treated. Now I am finding out about horses dying all around the area. I have almost lost count. Tragically I have just now learned of another death to this and almost all were treated for the wrong things. We suspect botulism but this has not been confirmed yet. We suspect this disease is related to feeding round bales, and possibly the extremely wet conditions of the past year. Most these horses are dying because the symptoms are not being recognized early or are being treated as colic or something else. To save a horse you MUST catch this right away and you must hit them with antibiotics. Naxcel is known to work, but Penicillin may also be affective. Here are things to watch for:


    Mimic both colic and neurological damage. It causes damage to intestines and swelling of stomach. It also causes damage to the brain and spinal cord but these can only be seen if cultured. A single strange gesture, turning head sideways while lying down, missteps, a weird stretch or lurch are most common first warnings and are easily overlooked. They are not repeated at first. Blood work will show lymphocytes dropping first, then elevated white count and other indications of infection. The next stage is lack of appetite. Dehydration and aversion to water. Difficulty swallowing. Chewing but not swallowing. The final stage included shivering, immobility or falling down, difficulty getting up and seizures. Temperature is normal or even low and heart rate may not be elevated as would be expected. This leads vets to assume colic and treat with mineral oil. Treating for EPM is ineffective as well.

  2. #2
    Here is a post from a man that had it happen to him:

    After this post I will quit cluttering up all the unrelated boards and post only to

    Until the veterinary community can get ahead of this, I am posting what I have learned. Horses are being treated at this moment that had been unsuccessfully treated as having colic and other disorders, so I have felt it urgent to get this out. I have originally consulted with three veterinarians and now contacted several other veterinarians including the Virginia Tech staff who act for the state here.

    In posting the symptoms of my horses and three at a near by farm I received an enormous number of emails saying that they had seen the same symptoms, and most of these horses had died within 12 hours to 4 days. The symptoms mimic colic, West Nile, and even Salmonella, and the only effective treatments have been with antibiotics that are effective against gram positive bacteria. I only have a record on one untreated mare surviving and she is still sick. Not a single report had diagnosed Listeriosis and not a single necropsy had determined the cause of death other than the symptom of colitis. Therefore it became clear that an outbreak of an entirely undiagnosed or misdiagnosed disease clearly killing horses in the following states:

    Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, up state New York, Wyoming, and there is a possible case in California.

    We believe that the disease that we have been calling Whisper Syndrome is in fact Listeriosis or a new strain of this disease. It is a gram positive bacterial infection most commonly known in Icelandic horses.

    It is common in Canada in sheep, and in the US in goats. It is also found in humans but it is not known (by me at least) if it can migrate between these species. In Goats it causes symptoms very similar to that seen in horses, especially the strange neck curl or twist we call the Whisper twist. In humans it causes neck pain.

    Listeriosis causes gastro enteritis and septicemia. This accounts for the symptoms that appear to be colic, and for the frequent loose manure and/or foul smelling manure and sometimes breath. Please read the symptoms carefully because it is easily misdiagnosed.

    Among the horses it appears to be most prevalent in PMU mares and foals from Canada, but our PMU mare Whisper came from North Dakota and had been with us for a year. It has been reported to me in almost every breed and in minis. Since our mare had been here for a year, and no other horses had come or gone, it is possible that this is carried by these horses for long periods of times. The other explanation is that the wet conditions have been such that the organism has spread by other vectors or that it was already present and simply was able to transfer. I personally believe it is transmitted by feeding from the ground or food in contact with the ground and by manure, but that is speculation.

    About 80% of all cases involve feeding of round bales. It tends to strike multiple times at a single multi-horse facility often killing three or four horses.

    The great majority of cases have occurred since this past Christmas. This is the same season that it is seen in Iceland, largely because this is the time of year that grass silage is fed on the ground. It has also been reported in the warmer months but to a much smaller degree. This could coincide with the fact that fewer round bales are fed during these months. It has been reported in some horses with not round bale access or ground feeding other than grazing.


    Not all these symptoms are present in any single case, but many are seen in most cases.

    Sudden, uncharacteristic, aggressive events have been reported to have preceded the onset of other symptoms in a number of cases. Whisper attacked me without provocation several days before her onset and then seemed confused over why she had done so.
    These have all been singular events.

    Stage 1 symptoms (4 hours to 1 day):
    The most reliable early indication is inability to finish meals or complete lack of appetite. Chewing without swallowing is common.

    There are unusual neurological symptoms that are nearly as common.
    Strange uncharacteristic, isolated stumble, trip, stretching step, head gesture, or other apparently neurological sign.
    One common characteristic is a strange step that looks either like a stretch or the animal trying to jump over a nonexistent object.

    These are often dismissed due to age or other factors. Turning head sideways while lying down in apparent peace (not looking at flanks like colic) is also classic and very common. Pawing at floor of stall, and or circling. Change of habitual patterns of behavior / confusion. Glassy eyed look and tendency to wander off and get lost.

    Some of these symptoms obviously mimic colic, but rolling and looking back at the sides is not common. They also mimic other disorders ranging from West Nile to salmonella and have been commonly treated for these. Only the cases that used a gram positive effective antibiotic for a salmonella diagnosis have been successful, but in these cases fecal tests have not shown salmonella.

    Horse will commonly lay down to rest in apparent peace during early stage. If they do this at a time or place that is uncustomary, it is a warning. This may be accompanied by the turning of the head sideways. Nasal discharge has been present in many cases and it contains both fungi and bacteria. A foul breath and/or manure are common. Bloody nasal discharge has been reported in one case with otherwise classic symptoms.

    Lack of appetite or chewing but not swallowing are almost universal.
    Aversion to water (most but not all cases). Horse may be attracted to water and then react as if shocked when the lips touch it.
    Water aversion may precede other symptoms because dehydration is seen early.

    No elevated temperature, and possibly a subnormal temperature (96-99.8 is typical).
    Temperature may spike for a short period in Stage 1 and then drop to normal or below normal. This spike is often either missed or does not occur at all.

    Blood work will show drop in lymphocytes.

    Heart rate may not be elevated, and may even be depressed in this stage.

    Some signs of colic (caused by colitis that results). It is often treated as colic, losing critical time and resulting in death.

    Even if your vet is relatively sure you are dealing with colic, have him or her run blood tests immediately or start Naxcel as a precaution until you know what you are dealing with.

    Stage 2 symptoms:
    Difficulty walking or refusal to move from a standing position.
    Difficulty getting up.
    Total confusion and glassy eyed look
    Tripping and sudden collapse.
    Shivering (onset of shock)

    Colitis is a symptom which can cause loose and septicemia causes foul smelling breath and stools. Bloody stool has been reported in one case which is consistent with severe colitis. Distension of the stomach has been noted both during symptoms and at necropsy. Severe diarrhea is reported as is one case of strange stools with small pellets. While not caused by parasites, the syndrome is probably aggravated by them.

    White count may or may not elevate.

    Stage 3 symptoms:
    Shock, seizures, erratic breathing, death

    Death results in 12 hours to 4 days.

    Survival rates:
    1 reported survival in an untreated horse where two others died. This horse is still not fully recovered after several weeks.
    2 reported survivals when SMZ (Spectrim or Bactrim) was administered, but disease rebounded in one case.
    1 reported survival with 20 CC twice daily of Gentamiacin 30 CC of Probios twice daily (used to treat rebound case above)
    2 reported survivals with Tucoprim, unknown dose
    6 reported survivals with Naxcel (average dose 20 CC twice daily for 5 to 14 days depending on how early symptoms were caught.
    0 reported survivals with penicillin alone (confirms it is gram positive bacteria)

    Blood work should be done immediately to determine if the antibiotics are indicated. It is not safe to assume you are dealing with colic and not check blood at this time. Dozens of horses have been reported to have been treated for colic and died shortly thereafter.

    It strikes multiple horses at a single facility and in most but not all cases it is horses that are eating round bales. It does not appear to be communicable from horse to horse, at least directly. It may be communicated via feces but this is only speculation. It strikes where no horses have entered the population for months or years. It strikes in facilities that are well managed and clean. If there has been the death of one or more horses with these symptoms, it is crucial to watch the others very closely.

    If you have a case to report, here is what I need to know.

    Can we contact the attending veterinarian?
    Can an investigative veterinarian contact you?
    How many of the symptoms were present?
    Were multiple horses at the facility and were others affected?
    What treatment (exact medications) was given and what were the results?
    Were round bales being fed?
    Was anything fed from the ground?
    Was feed tested?
    Where did this occur and how recently.
    Was a necropsy performed? Can we have access to it?

    I feel like we are very close to getting this thing nailed down. I very much appreciate the help of everyone on all these boards. You are great people!

    John Holland

    PS: I believe strongly that horse slaughter for human consumption should stop until we know if this strain can infect humans. I propose a 50 year study



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