Europe Bans Import Of U.S. Horses Originating In WNV-Affected Areas

Last minute negotiations between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the European Commission have failed to stop a ban on the importation of U.S. horses from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey into Europe. The American Horse Council learned last week that the European Union planned to institute a total ban on the importation of horses from the tri-state area. The AHC was in close communication with the USDA in efforts to stop the measure but USDA's immediate negotiations were unsuccessful and the Commission decision was issued on Friday.

The ban is in response to isolation of West Nile virus (WNV) in horses on Long Island, New York. West Nile virus has been responsible for the illness and deaths in numerous birds in New York. Some humans have also been affected by the virus, including the deaths of five elderly New York residents and one Canadian tourist. In addition, a crow was recently found in Maryland with the virus.

The import ban will have serious economic consequences for the horse industry, including jeopardizing the 116-year old National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, which had Italian and Swiss teams scheduled to participate. Horses returning to Europe from the Breeder's Cup races in Florida may also have to alter travel plans in order to avoid transiting John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. JFK is a common exportation port for horses shipping to Europe.

While the news of the virus being found in horses is of concern to horse owners, there is no evidence to indicate that horses play a role in the transmission of the disease. It is believed that horses are a "dead end" host for the virus. This means that although horses can be infected with the disease it cannot be spread to other animals or birds.

Migratory birds are considered to be the primary source of infection for this virus. Mosquitoes pick up the virus when feeding on infected birds and spread the virus to other birds, horses, other animals and humans. Preventing exposure to mosquitoes is a significant measure horse owners can take to reduce the risk of their horses being exposed to the virus. Control measures include eliminating standing water from around barn areas as standing water provides a good breeding habitat for mosquitoes. Recent freezing temperatures in the Northeast is believed to have eliminated the mosquito populations in that area.

Clinical illness in horses resulting from infection of WNV does not always occur. Often horses, birds and humans can be infected but not show symptoms of the disease. However, in animals, birds or humans with compromised immunity (such as already ill or elderly) the virus can cause illness and sometimes death.

West Nile virus is known to exist in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Its identification in the New York area marks the first time it has been found to exist in the Americas.

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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