Probably one of the most well-attended equine sessions of the forum was a lunchtime discussion sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, in which a panel of internists presented information on recent outbreaks of salmonella and fielded questions from attendees. Salmonella bacteria can cause debilitating intestinal problems and life-threatening diarrhea. Salmonella can affect foals and adults, and it is spread easily by horse-to-horse contact and by fomites (shared tools, water buckets, hands, etc., on which bacteria can "hitch a ride" to the next victim). Seemingly well horses can harbor the bacteria, and when stressed, they can shed it or become ill.

So an ill horse that's stressed by traveling and adapting to a hospital environment is a prime candidate to shed Salmonella bacteria, even if that wasn't the orginal illness.

Practitioners from several university hospitals and private facilities say their practices are spending $10,000-$30,000 per year on surveillance of incoming horses for Salmonella, and that it has paid off for them. An outbreak of the disease among hospital patients is deleterious for animals with already compromised health.

"We need to be logical about the transmission risk and segregating different horses," explained Paul Morley, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, associate professor, Epidemiology and Biosecurity, director of Biosecurity, James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital director, Animal Population Health Institute, Colorado State University. "This is part of the basic structure of a sound biosecurity program," he said. "But we don't really know how much is enough."

Some practices are testing every animal that comes in the door and isolating those that culture positive, and many are also testing facilities with the use of Swiffer samples from surfaces in the hospital. Preventing and managing hospital-acquired cases of salmonella require educating the client.

"We need to be open and up front" about the possibility of these infections, said Fairfield T. Bain, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVP, ACVECC, of Hagyard Equine Medical Center in Lexington, Ky. "Ethically, our primary responsibility is the patient, and we need to explain (to the client) if there's a higher risk."

He mentioned a study that revealed 85% of horses on one farm were shedding Salmonella, and he said many farm managers are realizing these infections aren't just a hospital problem anymore.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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