Deadly Equine Herpes Virus Slows Netherlands Olympic Readiness

BLOOMBERG BUSINESS WEEK — MARCH 9, 2012 — An outbreak of a deadly equine virus is preventing horses from traveling in the Netherlands, causing animals including those of triple Olympic dressage champion Anky van Grunsven to miss competitions.

The rhinopneumonitis virus, or equine herpes, poses no risk to humans. Symptoms vary from a common cold to miscarriages and paralysis, according to the website of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. The disease, which can be fatal, is spread by close contact between horses. It can also be transferred indirectly by people, feed or equipment.

“This is a normal virus in the horse population and most of the time all it causes is a cold, but we are taking extra measures because we have had outbreaks of the less common paralysis strain in three different places and we don’t know why,” Willem Luiten, spokesman for the Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS), said in a phone interview.

The virus killed a number of horses in Berg en Dal, in the east of the Netherlands, on Feb. 22. Two more fatal outbreaks followed, one in Heumen in the east and the third one in Woubrugge in the province of South Holland a week ago.

The KNHS has advised horse owners not to move their animals unless absolutely necessary, while all equestrian competitions have been canceled.

The KNHS stressed there is “no threat” to the participation of the Dutch equestrian squad at the London Olympics, which start July 27.

“The virus has an incubation time of ten days, so once we are beyond that period of time counting from the last outbreak, we should be fine again,” Luiten said.

“Our yard is closed, all classes are canceled and there won’t be any outside horses coming to our stables,” Van Grunsven, the Olympic champion in the individual freestyle dressage at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Games, said on her website. “Better safe than sorry.”

Van Grunsven, whose stables are based in the southern town of Erp, has withdrawn from a competition this weekend in Dortmund, Germany. Fellow Dutch rider Sander Marijnissen has also pulled out of Dortmund because of the virus outbreak.

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