Polo Horses Died From Selenium Overdose
The 21 polo horses who collapsed and died suddenly before a polo match in Wellington, Florida on April 19, were overdoses with the metal selenium.
The animals who received an injected concoction of selenium (in its soluble form called selenite), vitamin B12, potassium and magnesium died. Those who did not receive the injections, given to enhance performance, showed no signs of sickness.
The University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine collected blood samples and did necropsies on the dead animals.
Dr. John Harvey, Associate Dean tells IB News, “What we have confirmed is that blood from the horses we got before they died, showed 10 to 15 times the normal sample of selenium. Their livers had 10 to 20 times the selenium concentration from a control horse. These are quite a high level of selenium.”
The compounding pharmacy in Ocala that prepared the injections, Franck’s, admitted at the time that “the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect” but did not specify which ingredient.
Selenium is a trace mineral essential to good health and sometimes included in vitamins for humans as they act an antioxidant enzymes. Plant foods primarily provide selenium depending on the content of the soil and is heavily present in states such as Nebraska and the Dakotas. Selenium is also found in meat and seafood and Brazil nuts, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Harvey says because it is taken in small amounts and orally, it would not have the same effect on humans.
Necropsies showed some hemorrhaging in the animals, but not evidence of pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs, as first reported. And Dr. Harvey says the extensive blood testing found no evidence of any amphetamines, cocaine, or other performance enhancing drugs.
“That’s important from my standpoint and some good news to the owner of the horses and the polo industry in general. The rumors were they injected them, we found nothing inappropriate” he says.
The horses began collapsing shortly after being injected and most were dead within three hours. Generally Dr. Harvey says when they deal with a necropsy, they get a history. Because of the rapid death, and the early involvement of law enforcement they were able to gather little information, such as blood pressure, or fever.
Lesions were also found to be minimal. Lesions indicate which tissues are damaged, but Dr. Harvey says the animals may have died too quickly for lesions to show up.
“The best we can say is they suffered a cardiovascular collapse, but the specific mechanism such as inability to maintain blood pressure, I don’t have specific information. You would not call this a heart attack, there were no infarctions visible. I don’t think there is a real clear mechanism.”
Dr. Harvey doesn’t know whether the animals suffered, but he does know the dosage for the large animals had to be very large.
“A lot of people were shocked they would die so fast, so dramatically, and so consistently. Because they’re such large animals, for the volume they’re putting in, that’s a potent drug. “ #