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BLM identifies possible cause of 129 wild horse deaths in Cañon City

129 wild horses have died since April 23 at a BLM facility in Cañon City.

CAÑON CITY, Colo. — An equine influenza virus could be the cause of a highly contagious disease outbreak that has killed over 100 horses at a wild horse facility in Cañon City.

Positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results from two veterinary diagnostic laboratories identified the strain of equine influenza (subtype H3N8) in nasal swabs and lung tissue from several horses, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The BLM said that, as of May 5, 129 wild horses have died since the outbreak began Saturday, April 23.

The equine influenza virus is "not uncommon among both wild and domestic horses," according to a BLM news release.

The BLM said "further testing of the samples positive for the equine influenza virus has determined the virus to be the Florida Clade 1 sub-lineage."

The wild horse facility in Cañon City, about 115 miles south of Denver, was under a voluntary quarantine while laboratories, veterinarians and epidemiologists continued to investigate. The facility has 2,550 horses.

No horses are allowed to leave the Cañon City until it's determined that the horses are healthy and pose no risk to the domestic equine population in the community.

The virus is not related to the outbreak avian influenza (subtype H5N1) that is impacting wild birds and poultry across the United States, the BLM said. 

RELATED: 1st human case of H5 bird flu reported in Colorado

PCR testing identified two equine herpes viruses. According to the BLM, these commonly occur in healthy horses and it was unclear to what extent these might be contributing to the severity of the clinical signs observed in the more severely affected group of horses at the facility.

"The Bureau of Land Management will review operations at the Cañon City facility to prevent future outbreaks like this from occurring," said Ben Gruber, BLM Colorado acting associate state director. "This tragic outcome was influenced by a population of horses that may have been particularly vulnerable, given their time in the West Douglas area and their exposure to last year’s wildfire that prompted their emergency gather."

"This unfortunate event is being taken very seriously by the Department of Corrections and the BLM," said Dean Williams, state corrections department executive director. "We are working in coordination to mitigate the spread of the virus and identify and prevent any potential risk which could lead to future similar events."

RELATED: 'Highly contagious' disease kills dozens of horses at Colorado facility

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