Epidemiology and reproductive outcomes of EHV-1 abortion epizootics in unvaccinated Thoroughbred mares in South Africa



Reasons for performing study

Equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) is one of the most common causes of infectious abortion in mares. Analysing the demography of outbreaks and detailing subsequent reproductive performance of affected mares will assist in the management of future (threatened) epizootics.


To examine the epidemiology and reproductive outcomes of 2 EHV-1 abortion epizootics with very different patterns of morbidity.

Study design

Epidemiological and reproductive data were analysed retrospectively following abortion epizootics associated with EHV-1, but initiated via different routes, among unvaccinated mares on 2 Thoroughbred farms in South Africa.


Aborting mares were assigned to either the EHV-1 abortion cohort via positive immunostaining (Farms 1 and 2) or quantitative PCR (Farm 2) on tissue samples, or to the non-EHV abortion cohort.


During their respective epizootics, EHV-1 abortions affected 9/30 (30.0%) and 18/316 (5.7%) of the pregnant mares on Farms 1 and 2, respectively; there were also 25 (7.9%) non-EHV abortions on Farm 2. Epizootic differences included: durations (Farm 1 = 135 days; Farm 2 = 34 days), intervals between first and subsequent abortions (Farm 1 = 39 days; Farm 2 = 2 days) and intervals to confirmation of EHV-1 (Farm 1 = 40 days; Farm 2 = 2 days). The median (range) age of EHV-1 abortion mares (8.0; 5–18 years) in both epizootics was similar but significantly younger (P = 0.004) than the 25 non-EHV-1 abortion mares (11.0; 4–24 years) on Farm 2. Gestation stage (median; range) of EHV-1 (291.5; 277–313) and non-EHV-1 (211.9; 61–339 days) abortions were significantly different (P = 0.001). The post abortion complications and subsequent reproductive outcomes had no significant association with EHV-1 abortion.


The marked difference in morbidity between the 2 epizootics may be associated with routes of introduction or intervention strategy dictated by availability of molecular diagnostic techniques. Unexpectedly, EHV-1 was not more commonly associated with post abortion complications.