Equine Influenza Spreads in the U.K.

Equine influenza has spread to nearly 20 premises—mostly Thoroughbred training stables--in the United Kingdom, and it has been detected in the eastern, central, and southern parts of the country. “The reason(it’s unusual) is because despite the fact that horses have been very well vaccinated and have very high antibody levels, they are still becoming infected with this strain of virus,” according to James Wood, BSc, BvetMed, MSc, PhD, MRCVS, DLSHTM, Dipl. ECVPH, head of epidemiology at the Animal Health Trust in the United Kingdom.
He said no racetracks have been affected by the illness.

Influenza, while typically not life-threatening, can make a horse uncomfortable and vulnerable to other diseases. Infected horses usually require a minimum of three to four weeks of rest to avoid long-term respiratory problems. Affected horses spread the virus via aerosol droplets or fomites (any objects capable of mechanically transporting an infectious agent, such as brushes or buckets). Horses exposed to transient populations, those stressed by shipping or heavy training schedules, young horses, and seniors are most at risk of contracting influenza. Signs in the current outbreak have included acute coughing, mainly during exercise, and some horses have developed nasal discharge. Fever has been seen, but is not a consistent sign.

It’s difficult to ascertain how many horses have been exposed to influenza, but veterinarians have continued to sample populations to try and determine its spread. Wood said 18-20 premises are currently affected.

Wood explained that the centralized disease reporting system in the United Kingdom has been advantageous because all laboratory influenza diagnoses on U.K. samples are made at the Animal Health Trust. It can be difficult to tally accurate numbers of disease cases when many different diagnostic laboratories are being used, or if there are multiple disease-reporting systems in a country. That is not the case in the United Kingdom. “We work very closely with the industry to try and control these diseases,” he said.

Veterinary officials have been relaying recommendations to U.K. horse owners regarding the influenza outbreak, which can be read in article #4306. But,“Generally speaking, we’ve been making more stringent requirements with the equine herpesvirus (outbreak) since it is much more dangerous,” said Wood. “Pretty much every premises to which we’ve made recommendations has followed them, and we’ve had a very good response.”

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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