Deadly African Horse Sickness Outbreak in Africa

Six horses in the Western Cape, Africa, succumbed to an outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS) during the week of Feb. 23, according to several news reports. The affected horses were from the Stellenbosch area, reported

The first cases occurred at the Elsenburg Agricultural College, and another case was discovered 16 km from the college on Feb. 27, confirming that the source of the virus was outside the college. Samples were taken from four of the horses and sent to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute and Equine Research Centre in Pretoria, where tests confirmed AHS.

African horse sickness is a lethal virus spread by the Culicoides bolitinos midge, a species of small fly. Midges need an infected horse as a viral source for the disease to spread. African horse sickness has the potential to spread very rapidly.

Before this outbreak, the disease had not been seen in the Western Cape since a 1999 outbreak, which resulted in a ban on the export of horses to the European Union for two years, resulting in lost income for the racing and breeding industries. The Elsenburg Agricultural College was in the AHS surveillance zone.

Epidemiologists are searching for the source of infection, and horses within a 20 km radius of the outbreak were to be vaccinated, according to

Horse owners in the area were advised to stable their horses during times when midges are active--two hours before sunset until two hours after sunrise. In addition, insecticides for horses were recommended.

A ban was placed on the movement of horses in and out of the AHS-free area and in and out of the 100 km surveillance zone. According to, the surveillance area provides early warning for the AHS-free zone, and horses are therefore not normally vaccinated against the disease in accordance with the export protocol negotiated with the European Commission.

"There is a ban with immediate effect and until further notice on any equine meetings or events within the horse sickness-free area and horse sickness surveillance zone," said Johan Gelderblom, the provincial agricultural minister, in an Independent Online ( report. Exceptions were made for the racing meet at Kenilworth.

The Boland state veterinarian requested that the race meeting scheduled for Kenilworth in Cape Town on Saturday, Feb. 28, be postponed for a short period to enable more exhaustive tests to be carried out on the original veterinary findings. Saturday’s races were postponed until Monday, March 1. Veterinary services, police, and traffic authorities monitored the day’s races, which went off without incident.

Gelderblom and Dr. Gideon Bruckner, director of veterinary services in the Western Cape, met with management of Gold Circle Racing on Feb. 29 about upcoming races at Kenilworth. Racehorses were allowed to be shipped into the track from their stables in Noordhoek, Philippi, Milnerton, and Rondeberg under strict restrictions, according to a report.

Horses were required to have a special permit and proof of vaccination against AHS within the past year. In addition, transportation of horses was only allowed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., when midges are not active. All racehorses had to be certified by a veterinarian to be fit and healthy with specific reference to their temperatures. Horses and transport vehicles had to be sprayed with a certified insecticide before departure and unloading.

Under the current protocol, Western Cape Veterinary Services are unable to certify horses for export from the Western Cape AHS-free area.

The outbreak follows a recent influenza outbreak, which affected equestrian events, including an interruption of racing for nine weeks. For more on the influenza outbreak, click here.

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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