Updating Equine Influenza Vaccines

Updating Equine Influenza Vaccines

Your veterinarian will help create a vaccination plan to keep your horse's immune system strong. What's right for your horse depends on his age, health history, and exposure to other animals, as well as your location.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Equine influenza last made headlines in 2007 with the Australia epizootic that affected approximately 50,000 horses. Since eradicated from Australia, equine flu viruses still circulate in much of the world, including the United States. Antigenic drift, which produces new virus strains and gradually undermines existing vaccines' effectiveness, necessitates periodic vaccine updating to combat the new strains.

The vaccine manufacturers look to scientists to advise them on which vaccine virus strains need to be replaced and with what. In 1995 an ad hoc working group of equine flu scientists was founded for just this purpose. Called the Expert Surveillance Panel, this group includes scientists from the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) reference laboratories for equine influenza in England, Ireland, Germany, and the United States; other labs specializing in equine flu virus; and the World Health Organization.

Each year the panel assembles and reviews evidence of equine flu activity worldwide, looking especially for cases of infection in vaccinated horses. It also reviews data comparing flu strains isolated from the past year's outbreaks with flu strains used in vaccines. The critical piece of evidence is how well the antibodies stimulated by vaccination will react with the circulating flu strain in the exposed horse. Researchers at Cambridge University have developed a new technique called "antigenic cartography" that makes these analyses easier. Fortunately, in most years the Expert Surveillance Panel reports that the equine flu vaccines are still working effectively. However, constant surveillance is critical.

Scientists now recognize three surviving branches of the equine flu "family tree," one of which currently circulates in the United States: the Florida clade 1 branch typified by strains such as Ohio/03. The Florida clade 2 branch constitutes the majority of recent isolates from Europe and is typified by strains such as Richmond/07. Some older American strains like Kentucky/97 are antigenically similar to Richmond/07. The branch called the "Eurasian lineage" circulated mainly from 1990 to 2005.

Because many horses travel internationally, the Expert Surveillance Panel's latest recommendation is that equine flu vaccines should contain strains of both the clade 1 and clade 2 branches. The panel has stopped recommending the Eurasian branch. The original equine flu branch, the A1 subtype represented by Prague/56, has apparently died out.

It is vitally important to the vaccine updating process that equine flu outbreaks are diagnosed properly and that virus specimens are collected by submitting nasal swabs from affected horses to veterinary diagnostic laboratories. From these swabs, virus strains can be isolated and compared for their antigenic drift and potentially used to make the next vaccine strain. Without virus isolates, the whole process of vaccine updating will break down from lack of information, putting even vaccinated horses at greater risk for equine flu.

Information on collecting and submitting nasal swabs can be found at www.ca.uky.edu/gluck/servFlu.asp. The 2011 report of the Expert Surveillance Panel can be viewed online.

CONTACT: Thomas Chambers, PhD--859/218-1126--tmcham1@uky.edu--Maxwell H. Gluck Equine research Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

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More information on Gluck Equine Research Center and UK Ag Equine Programs.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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