Source AP ©

Hong Kong horses infected with horse herpes

The next year Hong Kong is due to host the equestrian event of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But the local jockey club said that a total 132 race horses have been infected with equine herpes in the territory's worst outbreak of the disease

The horses fell sick since Feb. 9, showing symptoms of mild fever, blood problems and swelling in the legs, and among them five horses pulled out of races Monday, Hong Kong Jockey Club spokesman Wilson Cheng said.

Cheng said the equine herpes virus isn't new to Hong Kong but the latest outbreak is the territory's biggest in history.

"We've never had an outbreak involving so many horses," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The horses also fell sick despite being vaccinated against the herpes virus, but Cheng said that wasn't a dangerous sign.

"Even if you're vaccinated against the flu, it doesn't mean you're totally immune. You may get mild symptoms, but they can be quickly controlled," he said.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club said in a statement the sick horses recovered within a few days and most returned to training within a week.

It said Hong Kong's strong surveillance and disease control measures helped limit the impact of a "potentially serious" outbreak.

Cheng said Jockey Club officials suspect the herpes spread by shared horse equipment.

News of the outbreak comes three weeks before the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Cup race on April 29 and a year ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008, whose equestrian event will be held in Hong Kong.

After Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Games, it received permission to move the equestrian events to Hong Kong because of concerns about equine diseases on the mainland.

Hong Kong has a horse racing tradition and experience working with the animals.

A spokesman for the Olympic equestrian event in Hong Kong said organizers aren't worried about the equine herpes virus outbreak because it has ordered stringent quarantine measures.

Christopher Yip said competing horses must be quarantined for a week before they depart for Hong Kong and another 10 days after they arrive here, and that they will be separated from the local horse population.

"We will not be affected," Yip said.

The herpes outbreak is the second major horse safety scare in Hong Kong in recent weeks.

On March 21, Jockey Club workers discovered a 12-meter (40-feet) long hose that branched out into metal tubes embedded in a race course, a device police say may inflict serious injury to horses.

Asked about the apparent sabotage attempt, Yip said, "Security is very tight for every Olympic games."