Epizootiological investigation of equine herpesvirus type 1 infection among Japanese racehorses before and after the replacement of an inactivated vaccine with a modified live vaccine

BMC Vet Res. 2019 Aug 6;15(1):280. doi: 10.1186/s12917-019-2036-0.


Background: Equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) infection is a major cause of pyrexias in winter among Japanese racehorses. In 2014-2015, the Japan Racing Association (JRA) changed the EHV-1 vaccine from an inactivated vaccine to a live vaccine (both produced by Nisseiken). To evaluate the effect of changing the vaccines, the capacities of these vaccines to induce virus-neutralizing (VN) antibodies were compared, and an epizootiological investigation of EHV-1 was performed at the JRA Ritto Training Center during epizootic periods from 2010-2011 to 2016-2017.

Results: Three-year-old horses that received the first dose of live vaccine showed higher geometric mean (GM) VN titers (205 and 220) than those that received inactivated vaccine (83, P < 0.05). The response rates after vaccination with the live vaccine (76 and 90%) were higher than that after vaccination with inactivated vaccine (42%, P < 0.05). Four-year-old horses from 2015 to 2017 that had received the live vaccine in the previous epizootic periods had higher GM titers (205 to 246) than those from 2011 to 2014, which had received the inactivated vaccine (139 to 164, P < 0.05). The estimated numbers of horses infected with EHV-1 or EHV-4, or both, in 2011-2012 (29 [95%CI: 21-37]) and 2013-2014 (37 [95%CI: 27-47]) were higher than those in the other periods (7 [95%CI: 2-12] to 16 [95%CI: 9-23]). Likewise, the seroconversion rates to EHV-1 in horses that stayed at the training center in 2011-2012 (66.0%) and 2013-2014 (52.0%) were higher than those in the other periods (12.0 to 28.6%).

Conclusions: The live EHV-1 vaccine is highly immunogenic and provides greater VN antibody responses than the inactivated vaccine. Unlike the period when the policy was to use inactivated vaccine, there was no detectable epizootic EHV-1 infection at the training center during three consecutive periods after the introduction of the live vaccine. These results suggest that the replacement of inactivated vaccine with live vaccine, together with the achievement of high vaccination coverage, reinforced the herd effect, and contributed to better control of EHV-1 epizootics in the training center.

Keywords: EHV-1; Inactivated vaccine; Live vaccine; Vaccination coverage; Virus-neutralizing antibody.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Herpesvirus 1, Equid*
  • Herpesvirus 4, Equid
  • Horse Diseases / epidemiology
  • Horse Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Horse Diseases / virology
  • Horses
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Seasons
  • Serologic Tests
  • Vaccines, Inactivated
  • Viral Vaccines / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Vaccines, Inactivated
  • Viral Vaccines