EIA 'Research Horse' Scheduled to be Euthanized

In a Sept. 20 press release from American Veterinary Medical Frontiers Inc. (AVMF), details regarding "Nora," a "healthy, well-cared-for, friendly horse," according to the press release that was bred by Robert J. Tashjian, VMD, associated with the AVMF for her natural immunity to equine infectious anemia (EIA) were relayed and the devastating news of her government-mandated destruction were made public.

EIA is caused by a retrovirus (like the human immunodeficiency and feline immunodeficiency viruses) that is spread through body secretions and can be transmitted via biting insects. There is no vaccine or treatment for EIA in the United States.

Michael Cahill, director of the Division of Animal Health, explained that Massachusetts General Laws chapter 129, section 2 empowers the director to issue reasonable orders regarding the quarantine or destruction of domestic animals affected with or that have been exposed to contagious disease. Chapter 129, section 44A speaks more directly to EIA-positive horses and says that positive horses may be permanently quarantined on the owner's premises, provided that no other horses are stabled within a 200-yard radius. Cahill relayed that local police documented escapes of horses from Tashjian's property located in Massachusetts on more than 40 occasions over the last 15 years. He added, "These facts, along with additional deficiencies found at Tashjian's research facility, caused the USDA to rescind approval to conduct EIA research on the property in September 2009.

"The Division of Animal Health has no interest in killing this horse," Cahill said. "We have ordered Tashjian to transfer 'Nora' to an approved EIA research facility where she can be appropriately confined and will no longer pose any risk to other equines. If Tashjian refuses to comply with the order, protecting the health of the other horses in the area would take priority and euthanasia will be required."

In the original press release, Gregory R. Ciottone, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, stated, "The culmination of this research (40 years of Tashjian's cutting-edge research) is the idea that a vaccine for EIA, similar in structure and action to human HIV, may be possible. He has been able to discover, through relentless study, that a horse can be exposed to EIA, demonstrate that exposure, yet never manifest the disease."

Experts in the field of infectious disease and EIA from the Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Ky., (who did not wish to be identified in association with this case) argued, "Tashjian's research is not groundbreaking, regardless of the opinion expressed by an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School."

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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