Biosecurity for Hospitals and Horse Farms

Biosecurity for Hospitals and Horse Farms

Photo: Megan Arszman

Good biosecurity practices aren't just for equine hospitals. When a horse is sick on the farm, reducing the transmission of infection could mean the difference between an isolated case and an epidemic. At the 2011 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention, held July 16-19 in St. Louis, Mo., Jamie DeFazio, CVT, VTS-EVN, discussed biosecurity in equine hospitals, but the majority of her suggestions can--and should--be used on any farm.

"Preventing disease with barriers and good hygiene are key components of biosecurity," said DeFazio, a veterinary technician at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square.

Biosecurity measures protecting not only the people who work with the sick horse and other animals, but also the sick horse. This last point might not seem obvious because the animal is already sick, but he is at risk for secondary infections if owners aren't careful.

DeFazio suggested both horse owners and veterinarians, at veterinary clinics as well as residential horse farms, consider the following biosecurity tips:

  • Isolate sick animals from healthy ones. If the barn is small, house affected horses in a stall away from the main door, and if possible, keep at least one empty stall between the sick and the healthy horses.
  • Care for healthy animals before tending to the sick animals.
  • Designate clothing, shoes, and equipment for the sick horse. Nonpermeable or washable coveralls and plastic clogs with plastic boot covers are good clothing choices to use only when in contact with the affected animals.
  • When tending to sick horses, gloves are a must. Other personal protective gear, such as face masks, might be needed in some cases to prevent inhalation of bacteria. Additionally, if the horse has a respiratory condition like strangles, use a disposable cap to protect hair, DeFazio said: "Some horses like to get into your face, and may sneeze on you ... you should try and protect yourself in every way possible."
  • Place a barrier such as a paint tarp, curtains, or an old bedspread around the stall housing the affected horse to keep bacteria-rich nasal secretions from becoming airborne and infecting other horses.
  • Wash your hands between tending to horses, even after wearing gloves. DeFazio also suggests disinfecting your hands using an alcohol-based sanitizer between handling horses.
  • Consider stepping in a disinfectant footbath before and after leaving a sick horse's stall.
  • Clean and disinfect all equipment (e.g., mucking supplies) after use, even if it is designated for the sick animal only, to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Clean up manure from both sick and healthy horses left in in common areas of the farm.

DeFazio relayed that most disinfectants are suitable for equine biosecurity measures, but always follow the directions on the label. Also follow the dilution instructions and leave the disinfectant on the intended surface for the specified time.

DeFazio explained that protocol at the New Bolton Center typically includes cleaning stalls with a laundry detergent initially to remove gross debris before using multiple disinfecting agents intended to kill the remaining germs to prepare the stall for the next occupant.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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