Piroplasmosis: First Step On A Long Road

I'm not happy, but I am satisfied. I'm not happy because I still think there are more questions than answers about letting horses positive for piroplasmosis enter the United States and compete in the Olympics. I'm not happy because I think this country should stick by established regulations and not get in a position to agree to something just because other countries think it should be that way. I'm not happy because there are a number of researchers and veterinarians I respect and hold in high regard who think letting the positive horses in is a bad idea.

On the other hand, I learned that there were no options available except to change the stance on "no waivers." The U.S. government is a signatory of the GATT trade agreement, which says that the signees cannot implement regulations on international movement of livestock unless those regulations are based on scientific risk assessment. Failure to adhere to the GATT principles can risk arbitration in the World Trade Organization arena.

So, to make a long story short, the USDA and the Georgia Department of Agriculture couldn't "Just Say No."

They did a risk assessment, then put together a 20-point plan to allow a maximum of 20 piro-positive horses into Georgia for the Olympics. Those allowed in will leave their restricted stabling area only for exercise, warm-up, and arena competition, and at those times only under the strict supervision of Georgia Department of Agriculture, USDA, and FEI personnel. Positive horses will not be allowed to compete in cross-country events because the risk of passing the protozoan parasite that causes piroplasmosis to native ticks was considered too great.

Piroplasmosis is found in nearly every country in the world except the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, and Japan. In fact, it is estimated that only 10% of the world's horse population is naive, or has not been exposed to or developed antibodies for the disease.

Also, European and South American competitors don't want to "sterilize" their horses and kill all the parasites. That would make their horses naive and susceptible to illness when returned home to endemic areas. Besides, the treatments sometimes are worse than the illness.

It takes three things to pass piroplasmosis from one horse to another: 1) an animal that has the parasite in sufficient quantity in its blood; 2) ticks of the right species, and; 3) naive horses. Eliminating any one of those three will prohibit transmission.

So, Georgia and the USDA decided to focus on preventing passage of the parasite by eliminating the ticks that pass it from one horse to another. The horses will be monitored and inspected, sprayed, and confined to areas that will be vegetation- and tick-free. Monitoring will continue after the Olympics are completed to assure horse owners that the Georgia International Horse Park is free of any problems and can host future equine events in safety.

Who's In Charge?

One of the greatest concerns about piroplasmosis has been one of political and actual power. Who is going to be in charge of overseeing that the waiver regulations are enforced, and does that person have the authority, and the guts, to be the champion of the United States horse owner?

I found assurance in sorting through this whole international montage of opinions and ideas when discussing the issue with Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin. When concern was mentioned, there was no hesitation in his voice. The proverbial sign on his desk reads: "The buck stops here."

He admitted that the pressure to grant waivers came all the way from the White House on more than one occasion. But, having been Commissioner of Agriculture for 28 years in the state that brought us Jimmy Carter, Irvin has seen his share of political wrangling. He could be just the man to put the international community at ease with a Southern smile, while at the same time standing guard at the homeplace door.

The question of piroplasmosis is just the starting point for what will be new discussions and regulations that will come forth in months and years to come under the new trade agreement. The global community is becoming smaller, and horse owners in the United States must adapt to that, while at the same time deciding how to protect our interests when this and other equine health problems face the equine industry in the future.

Special Report And Conference

Because of the intense interest from horse owners about piroplasmosis, we have put together a special report included with this month's magazine covering the science of the disease, and the current situation regarding the Olympics. We welcome your continuing input and questons.

On those same lines of education, The Horse will host a conference on piroplasmosis on April 25 at the Kentucky Horse Park. This is the first day of dressage during the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, also at the Kentucky Horse Park. Everyone is welcome to attend the piroplasmosis conference. Further information will be placed on our World Wide Web site at http://www.thehorse.com.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More