Equine Influenza Outbreak has FEI Competition on High Alert

An equine influenza outbreak among French sport horse farms could affect competing horses at the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Nations Cup 2012 show jumping event, held May 10-13 at La Baule, France, according to the French surveillance center for equine pathologies (RESPE) and the French governing body for equestrian sports (FFE). The French show jumping team has elected to pull its top four horses from the event in order to ensure their good health for the upcoming Olympic Games, the FFE reported.

Currently, no horses at the Nations Cup have presented any clinical signs of illness, said Christel Marcillaud-Pitel, DVM, RESPE director. Riders and veterinarians have taken precautionary measures to prevent disease spread at the event, including a full veterinary inspection of each horse prior to entering the stables and a verification of each horse's body temperature twice daily, according to the FEI.

"The risk here is not just that these horses, which are all properly vaccinated, could become ill, but that they could carry the disease to other horses which are not vaccinated," said Marcillaud-Pitel. While the equine influenza vaccine protects horses by reducing the gravity of clinical signs or preventing them from developing signs altogether, it does not necessarily stop them from shedding the virus, she said.

Currently, three sport horse breeding and training farms, all within a 20-mile radius in Normandy's Calvados region about three hours from La Baule, have been confirmed positive for the outbreak, according to Marcillaud-Pitel. In total, 210 horses are showing signs of fever and/or cough, including all 150 residing on one farm, 45 out of 70 at the second, and 15 out of 70 at the third, the RESPE reported. All horses had been vaccinated in all farms except young horses (under 2 years old).

"The adult horses who have been able to benefit from several years of accumulated vaccine are faring the best," Marcillaud-Pitel said, adding that for the most part their symptoms were minor and short-lived. "The younger ones who have only been vaccinated a year or two or who have never been vaccinated at all are showing stronger symptoms."

Officials have restricted movement of horses on the three affected farms until further notice. Certain upcoming national competitions in the Normandy area, especially for breeding stock, will likely be cancelled, Marcillaud-Pitel said.

Earlier influenza concerns about a horse that died at the first farm after returning from a month-long tournament in Arezzo, Italy, have been mostly relieved, Marcillaud-Pitel reported. An autopsy revealed the horse was probably free of influenza, although not all laboratory results are available. "It doesn't look likely that it was influenza," she said.

However, concern is ongoing about the spread of the disease at recent equestrian events, including the Italian tournament, she added. Some of the horses in the affected farms had competed in two events in Normandy (including a competition for young horses at the national stud) and at the CSI 3* last week in Le Touquet, France. One horse from an affected farm began to show influenza signs at Le Touquet and was returned home to Calvados.

As a result, all competing horses that were present at Le Touquet are being stabled together, according to a press release by the La Baule event organizing committee. Although the affected horse is not present at La Baule, there remains a risk that other horses from the Le Touquet event were exposed to the same virus.

"The FEI's vaccination protocols for equine influenza, which are OIE (world animal health organization)-endorsed, are more stringent than many other regulators," said Graeme Cooke, DVM, FEI veterinary director. "There is a requirement for our horses to be vaccinated within six months of competing, whereas many regulators only require annual vaccination.

"We are continuing to monitor the situation and are emphasizing our normal vaccination requirements, and we will issue further guidelines if needed," he added.

Competing teams in this year's Nations Cup include Switzerland, Ireland, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, and France, which entered other horses in the event after pulling its top four, the FEI reported.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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