Equis ISSN 2398-2977

Equine herpesvirus

Synonym(s): EHV, equine rhinopneumonitis virus, EHV-1, EHV-2, EHV-3, EHV-4, EHV-5

Contributor(s): Sarah Binns, Rachael Conwell, Susan Dawson, Melissa Kennedy, Vetstream Ltd




  • Family: Herpesviridae.
  • Subfamily: Alpha herpesviridae and Gamma herpesviridae.


  • Gk:herpein- creeping.

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Clinical Effects



  • Equine herpesviruses are maintained in infected horses as latent infections.


  • Herpesvirus enters susceptible cells by binding to receptors and initiating fusion at the cell membrane, or by endocytosis/phagocytosis   →   viral nucleocapsid is released into cytoplasm   →    viral DNA enters nucleus   →    transcription and replication take place   →    new viral DNA is produced and released.


  • EHV-1, 2 and 4 transmitted by aerosol and direct contact.
  • EHV-3 transmitted venereally, by fomites, or indirect contact.
  • EHV-5 transmission not yet established.

Pathological effects

  • EHV-1 infects circulating white blood cells, resulting in a leukopenia.
  • Complement-fixing and virus-neutralizing antibodies develop; 50% of horses are seropositive to EHV-1.
  • 90-100% of adult horses have antibodies to EHV-2.
  • Associated with abortion   Abortion: overview    Abortion: EHV-1  , respiratory tract disease and occasionally neurologic disease (myeloencephalitis   CNS: myeloencephalopathy - EHV  with ataxia and posterior paresis).
  • Primary virus replication occurs in respiratory epithelium   →   viremia   →   secondary localization.
  • Abortion usually occurs in the 7th-8th month of gestation, without previous clinical signs. May occur in the presence of neutralizing antibody.
  • Aborted fetuses show jaundice, petechie, edema, splenomegaly and focal hepatic necrosis.
  • Foals may be born alive but infected and die within a few days.


  • May cause respiratory tract disease, pharyngeal lymphoid hyperplasia   Pharynx: lymphoid hyperplasia  or pharyngeal ulceration   Respiratory: EHV infection  .
  • Has caused rhinitis and conjunctivitis in experimental infection.
  • Infects tonsillar tissue   →   viremia in leukocytes.



  • Previously EHV-1 subtype 2.
  • Associated with equine rhinopneumonitis:
    • Primary replication in respiratory epithelium   →   transient viremia   →   malaise and pyrexia   →   relocalization in respiratory tract   →   nasal discharge which may become mucopurulent due to secondary bacterial infection and conjunctivitis   Conjunctivitis: overview  or secondary pneumonia.
    • May infect lymphocytes   →   necrosis of germinal centers of lymph nodes with reactive hyperplasia   →   submandibular lymphadenopathy.


  • Interstitial pneumonia, presenting with cough, tachypnea, increased respiratory effort, fever, weight loss.
  • Loss of functional pulmonary parenchyma due to extensive nodular to coalescing interstitial fibrosis.

Other Host Effects

  • Latent infections may result in carrier status.
  • Subclinical infections are probably common, especially with EHV-2.


Control via animal

  • In the UK, the HBLB included guidance in their Codes of Practice on  Equine Herpesvirus on how to control EVA and how to protect the horse population from this disease.
  • Complete rest for respiratory disease cases.
  • Antibiotics   Therapeutics: antimicrobials  to control secondary bacterial infection in respiratory disease.
  • Minimize stress, especially in pregnant mares.
  • Topical ointments for EHV-3 infection.

Control via environment

  • Removal of infective material such as aborted fetus and fetal membranes.
  • Isolation of infected horses.
  • Disinfection.


  • Inactivated vaccines available for EHV-1 and EHV-4.
  • Vaccinate pregnant mares at the beginning of the 5th, 7th and 9th months of gestation.
  • Other horses: primary course of 2 doses 3-4 weeks apart, 3rd dose 6 months later, then 6 monthly boosters.
  • No protection versus the neuropathogenic strain of EHV-1.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references fromPubMed.
  • Kydd J H, Slater J, Osterrieder N, Antezak D F & Lunn D P (2010)Report of the second Havermeyer EHV-1 workshop, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA, September 2008.Equine Vet J42(6), 572-575PubMed.
  • Pusterla Net al(2010)Prevalence of equine herpesvirus type 1 in trigeminal ganglia and submandibular lymph nodes of equids examined postmortem.Vet Rec167(10), 376-379PubMed.
  • Wong D M, Maxwell L K & Wilkins P A (2010)Use of antiviral medications against equine herpes virus associated disorders.Equine Vet Educ22(5), 244-252.
  • Paillot R, Case R, Ross J, Newton R & Nugent J (2008)Equine herpes virus-1: virus, immunity and vaccine.Equine Vet J2, 68-91.
  • Luce Ret al(2007)Equine herpesvirus-1-specific interferon gamma (IFNy) synthesis by peripheral blood mononuclear cells in Thoroughbred horses.Equine Vet J39(3), 202-209PubMed.
  • Smith D, Hamblin A & Edington N (2001)Infection of endothelial cells with Equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) occurs where there is activation of putative adhesion molecules - a mechanism for transfer of virus.Equine Vet J33(2), 138-142PubMed.
  • Van Maanen Cet al(2001)Neurological disease associated with EHV-1 infection in a riding school - clinical and virological characteristics.Equine Vet J33(2), 191-196PubMed.
  • Friday P Aet al(2000)Ataxia and paresis with equine herpesvirus type 1 infection in a herd of riding school horses.J Vet Intern Med14(2), 197-201PubMed.
  • Perkins G, Ainsworth D M, Erb H N, Del Piero F, Miller M, Wilkins P A, Palmer J & Frazer M (2000)Clinical, hemotological and biochemical findings in foals with neonatal Equine herpesvirus- 1 infection compared with septic and premature foals.Equine Vet J31(5), 422-426.
  • Murray M J, Eichorn E S, Dubovi E J, Ley W B & Cavey D M (1996)Equine herpesvirus type-2 - prevalence and seroepidemioloy in foals.Equine Vet J28(6), 432-436PubMed.
  • Drummer H E, Reynolds A, Studdert M J, Macferson C M & Crabb B S (1995)Application of an equine herpesvirus-1 type-specific ELISA to the management of an outbreak of EHV1 abortion.Vet Rec136(23), 579-581PubMed.
  • Sharma P C, Cullinane A A, Onions D E & Nicolson L (1992)Diagnosis of equid herpesviruses-1 and -4 by polymerase chain reaction.Equine Vet J24(1), 20-25PubMed.

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