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Equine medical center's isolation unit is valuable tool in battle against infectious diseases


LEESBURG, Va., Jan. 31, 2007 – Whether it is Equine Herpesvirus-1, Potomac Horse Fever or Strangles, infectious diseases in horses have appeared frequently in recent news headlines. Fortunately, the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., is on the frontlines in the battle against infectious diseases within the equine population.

The center, which is one of three campuses of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, houses a state-of-the-art Animal Biosafety Level 2 isolation unit specifically designed to quarantine horses that are diagnosed with, or suspected of having, contagious diseases. The $1 million facility was unveiled in February 2004 in thanks to a bequest from the estate of the late Paul Mellon, along with smaller private contributions and support.

The isolation unit stands apart from the main building and can accommodate up to eight horses. Each stall features an individual stall entry and ventilation system in order to prevent cross-contamination as well as a video camera so that the medical staff can monitor patients at all times.

In order to provide for the safety and care of hospitalized horses, the center’s team follows strict protocols in isolating patients suspected of having contagious diseases.

“If we believe that a horse may be capable of spreading a contagious organism, then that horse has to be placed in isolation where they’re physically separated from other horses,” said Harold C. McKenzie III, assistant professor of equine medicine at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. “We very closely monitor all of the horses in our care and we’re quick to act if we suspect a potential infectious disease issue.”

Once horses are placed in isolation, the center’s doctors, nurses and technicians follow stringent biosecurity procedures governing patient care, movement in and out of the isolation unit, and cleaning and sterilization of stalls.

“The unit protects the general hospital population but it also protects the animal that is in isolation,” said Martin O. Furr, Adelaide C. Riggs Chair in Equine Medicine at the center. “We take extraordinary precautions to keep our patients safe.”

The center’s faculty members also conduct research related to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. Since the center’s inception in 1984, researchers have played key roles in the development of Marquis, the first Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment for Equine Protozoal Myelitis, and of the technique for using inhaled antibiotics to treat respiratory diseases. Private philanthropy has spearheaded the expansion of research facilities at the center, and a new collaborative research complex is currently being constructed.

“This isolation unit and the research underway at the center are vital and necessary components in our ability to offer comprehensive healthcare services to our patients,” said Nathaniel A. White II, Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. “Our patients’ health is always our first priority.”

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center is a Leesburg-based full-service equine hospital that is owned by Virginia Tech and operated as one of three campuses that comprise the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.