AAEP Convention News: Infection Control Strategies

The importance of minimizing exposure to infectious agents and optimizing resistance of an animal to them cannot be overemphasized. In addition to vaccination and the use of antimicrobials, infection control strategies can help save the lives of horses whether the program is developed for a farm or veterinary clinic. During the General Medicine session, Josie Traub-Dargatz, DVM, MS, presented "Infection Control Strategies for Horses in the New Millenium" about the need for a plan of action to prevent the spread of disease.

Preventing the spread of an infectious disease can save time and money. The economic impact of an outbreak is felt through expenses incurred while trying to control the outbreak and treat infected horses, lost use of the animals, lost income for the operation if movement or value of the horses is impacted, and lost value of animals that die. The impact of an infectious disease depends on:

  • The number of animals affected;
  • Morbidity and mortality;
  • The ability to prevent further spread or future outbreaks;
  • Limits placed on movement of horses onto and off of the affected premises; and
  • Loss of confidence and business of those who would bring their animal to the premises.

The first step in controlling the spread of infectious disease on an operation involves determining what diseases a program needs to control and learning the characteristics of that disease (i.e., how it is spread).

Next, caretakers should group animals based on their infection status. For instance, animals that are sick from one disease should be grouped together, while animals at risk of shedding a virus (such as those returning from a show that have been exposed to other horses and possible pathogens) would be housed in another area. These animals should be monitored daily with someone taking and recording rectal temperatures, thus making early detection of a problem easier. Healthy horses should be housed together but as far away from infectious animals as possible.

The ability to group animals might be affected by the layout of the facility. To do this, first a medical history of each horse should be obtained. One should question whether the horse or the herd that the horse is coming from could have been or was exposed to a contagious disease agent such as streptococcus equi. A physical exam might also need to be performed. In addition, screening tests might be desired if a horse has come from a herd that recently experienced an infectious disease outbreak such as strangles. Once horses are grouped, a strict hygiene program should be adhered to in order to prevent the spread of disease between groups.

In addition, monitoring newly arrived horses in quarantine is essential to detect the onset of a disease early. For example, taking a horse’s rectal temperature daily can alert you to the onset of a fever. If disease does occur, the animal should be completely isolated and treated appropriately. In addition, by monitoring various aspects of the horse’s health with tests or a physical exam, trends can be noted.

Communication between the people handling the horses is essential. Some techniques to improve communication include:

  • Developing both written and verbal communication between personnel,
  • Posting information on horses,
  • Developing a communication board,
  • Color coding for animal identification and biosecurity methods,
  • Provision of clothing to maintain optimal hygiene, and
  • Posting signs and providing materials for hand washing and foot dips.

Next, an immunization program should be created for each horse on the property. It is important to minimize stress factors (such as unnecessary transportation), optimize nutrition, and minimize treatments that make animals more susceptible to disease (such as the use of corticosteroids which lower the immune response or antibiotics which alter the gastrointestinal flora making the horse more susceptible to enteropathogens).

"It is important to remember that an infection control program may not eliminate infectious diseases in horses, but hopefully would limit the severity of the problem by minimizing the number of animals affected," she said.

About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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