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BENTONVILLE -- Some owners of hoofed livestock in Northwest Arkansas will need a certified inspection before their animals can travel, according to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.

The vesicular stomatitis virus has been confirmed in three horses in Benton County prompting the restrictions, according to the agency.

The rarely fatal virus can cause blister-like lesions to form in the mouth and on the dental pad, tongue, lips, nostrils, hooves and teats. These blisters swell and break, leaving raw tissue so painful that infected animals generally refuse to eat and drink and show signs of lameness, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.

Current virus movement restrictions affect all Arkansas-based equine -- including horses, donkeys, mules -- and some other hooved animals.

To legally move such an animal from an affected county, the animal must be examined by a USDA accredited veterinarian, be declared free from lesions within five days before any travel within or through Arkansas, and be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection with the date of the veterinarian's examination and an assigned entry permit number recorded on the certificate, according to a news release.

The department urges owners of hooved animals to closely monitor their animals and comply with all animal movement restrictions. The department issued an alert and implemented animal movement restrictions immediately after federal confirmation of the infection Monday, according to a news release.

Vesicular stomatitis is a viral disease affecting horses, cattle, sheep, goats and swine. The infection in Benton County appears to be a strain predominantly affecting equine. Transmission commonly occurs through bites from black flies, sand flies and other biting insects, according to a news release.

"It is likely that the list of affected premises and counties will expand over the next month or more," said Arkansas State Veterinarian Randolph Chick. "Restrictions on animal movement are a necessary part of the effort to reduce the impact of this disease.

"Caretakers of equine and other hoofstock need to check often for changes in movement restrictions and other VSV information on the Ag Department's website. Folks should be aware that caring for affected animals can pose a risk for human infection, causing flu-like symptoms that can last a week or so," Chick said in the release.

The Benton County Fair canceled a horse show scheduled for Sunday, said Susan Koehler, fair and events manager. She said the fair was aware of the announcement by the Agriculture Department and would take extra precautions for other hoofed animals that will be entered at the fair.

It was announced Monday that the fair will limit its schedule and attendance this year to exhibitors and immediate family members because of covid-19. The fair starts Tuesday.

The Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Division inspectors are monitoring other potentially affected hooved species at all livestock auction barns selling cattle, swine, sheep and goats. Livestock inspectors are also present at horse auctions held within the state, according to the release.

Since this outbreak was detected April 13, the virus has been identified on 267 premises in eight states. Equine was the only species affected on 256 of the premises noted. Cattle were affected on 10 premises, and a single location had both equine and cattle demonstrate lesions, according to the release.

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