African Horse Sickness Outbreak Kills 300 Horses in South Africa

An outbreak of African horse sickness detected last week in South Africa has killed 300 horses, according to a Pro-Med report. African horse sickness is a lethal virus spread by the Culicoides bolitinos midge, a species of small fly. Although African horse sickness is endemic to all parts of Africa, except the Western Cape, rain in the region has increased the midge population.

The outbreak began in the Underberg-Loteni district, according to the report. Since March, 31 veterinarians have suggested that all equine sporting events around ZwaZulu Natal’s southern Drakensberg and Eastern Griqualand districts be cancelled. A voluntary transportation ban has been established in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

The outbreak has already jeopardized some equine businesses. Rainbow Advertures, a horse safari operation, has gone out of business due to the death of seven horses, the report continued. There is a vaccine, however many local horse owners cannot afford to vaccinate their herds. Samples have been sent to the Equine Research Centre at Onderstepoort and Allerton to determine what strain of the virus is responsible for the outbreak, and to determine which serotype vaccination to use.

Clinical signs for African horse sickness include fever, difficulty breathing, swelling above the eyes or of the entire head, coughing, discharge from the nose, excess salivation, sweating, restlessness, lack of energy, and general stress and lethargy due to edema (fluid swelling) around the heart and lungs.

African horse sickness is a very serious disease because of the high death rate in affected horses, according to the National Department of Agriculture in South Africa. There is no cure for the disease and medicine to treat the clinical signs is very costly. Affected horses under treatment must be on complete stall rest before gradually returning to activity.

The National Department of Agriculture offers the following recommendations for control of the disease during an outbreak:

• Keep horses in closed stables from at least one hour before sunset until at least one hour after sunrise. This will ensure that no midges come into contact with horses to infect them.
• Apply suitable insect repellants or insecticides to keep midges away.
• Take the rectal temperatures of all horses, mules, and donkeys twice a day in order to identify infected animals as early as possible. If there is any increase in temperature, consult a veterinarian immediately.
• Vaccinate all horses, if they are not already vaccinated.

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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