Victor Dartnall's horse virus outbreak 'a calamity'
An outbreak of a highly infectious virus which affects horses has been described as a "calamity" by the owner of a Devon stable.
Victor Dartnall's stables at Higher Shutscombe, near Barnstaple, have been voluntarily quarantined after the neurological equine herpes virus (EHV-1) was diagnosed.
It can cause inflammation of blood vessels in the spinal cord or brain.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been informed.
It has told trainers and racecourses to be on guard as the affected horses may have been carrying the disease before the symptoms appeared.
EHV-1 can be transmitted through the air from respiratory infection or by close contact between horses and although it can be treated, in some cases it can be fatal.
"Several of my young horses are very sick, so I'm just hoping we'll pull through and come out the other side," Mr Dartnall told BBC News.
In the past few weeks, horses from Mr Dartnall's stables were running at Wincanton, Exeter and Chepstow.
While the disease is difficult to spread, the BHA said it was working closely with Mr Dartnall and his vets to ensure "every precaution". Strict security measures have been put in place to keep the outbreak under control.
Professor Tim Morris, its director of equine science and welfare, said: "It is in theory possible that horses may have been infectious before the signs of the disease appeared.
"We have therefore alerted racecourse, trainer and veterinary representatives to possible exposure but stress that the actual risk of transmission of this virus in a controlled race day environment is relatively small."
Mr Dartnall said the alarm was raised when some horses started to run high temperatures and "rather worryingly" developed symptoms.
"My understanding is that most horses carry the virus sub-clinically, but it can mutate and that is what seems to have happened," he said.
Athough there is no legal requirement to quarantine the stables, Mr Dartnall said he had done so because it was "best practice".
Although he did not specify how many animals were affected, he confirmed it was a "significant" outbreak which was "very damaging" to his business.
"My vet's working constantly with the BHA and we're hopeful things are under control," he added
Robin Mounsey from the BHA said it was "dreadful" news for the stable.
"Victor has done everything spot on. He's quite distraught as you can imagine and it is very sad news for him," he said.