Special Report: The Year Of The Strangles

Horse owners have experienced an escalated fight with strangles in 2000-2001. Researchers have long observed that the highly contagious upper respiratory disease is more prevalent in some years than others. Historically, this happens about every seven years.

"It might have to do with the waning immunity of the horse population," said John F. Timoney, MVB, PhD, DSc, MRCVS, of the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center. Timoney is considered by his colleagues to be the world's leading authority on Streptococcus equi, the bacterium that causes the disease.

Strangles is a purulent pharyngitis, or a pus-associated inflammation of the throat. It is also considered a lymphadenitis (inflammation of the lymph nodes) affecting the head region. S. equi depends on the horse for survival, and survives only briefly in nasal discharge and pus drained from abscesses. Strangles can be transmitted by direct contact with this discharge or pus, or by people, flies, veterinary instruments, or shared equipment like buckets or tack. This is why quarantine and rigorous disinfection procedures are implemented when strangles is diagnosed on a farm (see "Strangles Management" on page 13).

S. equi uses an array of complex mechanisms to invade the horse and cause disease. Despite its clever tactics, 2001 might be the year that strangles meets its match. Members of the United Kingdom Streptococcal Interest Group, including scientists from the Animal Health Trust, Cambridge University, and Newcastle University, cracked the genetic code of S. equi in 2000. This group and researchers such as Timoney have been working to sequence specific genes for proteins active in causing disease at the cellular level--all in an exhaustive effort to produce a more effective vaccine to protect our horses.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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