Equine Infectious Anemia In Alberta, Canada

Equine infectious anemia (EIA), a deadly equine virus carried by horseflies and mosquitoes, has forced veterinarians to destroy more than 120 horses in Alberta, Canada, this year, a federal agency says.

An incurable disease, EIA is commonly known as swamp fever. The disease is caused by a virus which infects red blood cells in horses, donkeys, and mules. When the animal's immune system destroys the infected blood cells, its reduced blood count causes anemia.

"They begin losing fluids, their legs swell up, and they get sick, lethargic and weak... You catch it, you die. It's kind of a dreaded disease,” said Ardrossan veterinarian and equine specialist Bob Jones.

Doug Scott, a veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said about 125 horses have been diagnosed with swamp fever in Alberta in 1999. "To my knowledge, they have all been destroyed," he said. Although Scott could not say how many Alberta horses died due to the virus last year, the Saskatchewan Horse Federation said 63 infected horses were found in 1992 across Canada.

About 75 of the horses destroyed in Alberta this year were diagnosed in February and March, following an investigation where over 2000 horses were tested after coming into contact with some infected animals riding in the Western Canada pony chuckwagon circuit.

"Most of it is transferred by biting insects. Mosquitoes, horseflies - or a person (veterinarian/owner) with a dirty needle," said Jones. "In the middle of winter, you're pretty safe around here. But summer's bad."

Veterinarians recommend horse owners take these steps:

  • When injecting medication into horses, use disposable needles and syringes, one per animal.
  • After using dental tools or other instruments on a horse, sterilize them before using them again.
  • Test horses at least once a year for swamp fever.
Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners