Twenty-nine cases of the contagious equine and livestock disease vesicular stomatitis have been confirmed in six counties in Colorado, including Montezuma and La Plata, according to the Colorado State Veterinarian's office.
Dr. Amanda Hawkins, of the Montezuma County Veterinary Clinic, says that five cases have been confirmed in Montezuma County. The disease is primarily transmitted through flies, which breed and lay eggs in waterways. The abundance of moisture the area has received this season has contributed to the uptick in cases, she says.
"We're definitely seeing some cases pretty close by, so fly control is definitely going to be number one - use fly spray on horses, sanitize water and food troughs. Definitely avoid co-mingling your horse with horses you don't know," she said.
Signs to look for are oral lesions, sloughing of the skin, excessive drooling and difficulty eating or drinking.
With the kickoff of the Montezuma County Fair, Hawkins says she and other area veterinarians are working with officials and coordinating VS checks at the fair to ensure equine and livestock safety and mitigate any possibility of VS spreading.
Tonya Yates, Montezuma County 4-H program coordinator, confirmed that every animal will be checked at the gate by a veterinarian for VS, and in the event it's found, the animal will be sent away. If VS is detected on the fairgrounds, a 14-day quarantine for all animals will be in place.
While the disease is extremely painful for affected animals, it isn't fatal, and usually requires quarantine and an antiseptic mouth spray until it passes.
The largest concern, however, is the disease's effect on livestock.
A herd of sick animals, not eating and losing weight, can result in a large economic loss for ranching operations while the herd waits for the disease to run its course, Hawkins said.
"We're most concerned about the livestock. Cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, alpacas are all susceptible. If it were to spread to really large herds, it could result in a huge production loss," she said.
Livestock owners who suspect an animal may have VS or any other vesicular disease should immediately contact their local veterinarian. Livestock with clinical signs of VS are isolated until they are determined to be of no further threat.
While rare, human cases of VS can occur, usually among those who handle infected animals and have open wounds. VS in humans can cause flu-like symptoms and only rarely includes lesions or blisters. Hawkins suggests handlers use gloves when working with possibly infected animals.
There are no USDA-approved vaccines for VS.