Decreasing Risk--Utilizing Industry-Based Standards of Care

Adverse animal health events do not occur randomly. Usually, there are identifiable causal--and possibly preventable--factors that can influence the development of disease. Depending upon whether the risk factors are already known or identified subsequent to a disease event, the management of a disease becomes basically one of either prevention or response.

For new or emerging disease conditions, it is likely that the identification of risk factors will occur only after the disease event of interest is over and a retrospective study has been completed. Consequently, these disease events tend to be prolonged and have a wider distribution among a susceptible population. As examples, mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) and equine encephalitis attributable to West Nile virus initially spread unchecked due to the lack of identifiable or available interventions. Conversely, for those diseases with well-delineated modes of transmission and for which standardized screening methods exist, the disease impact associated with their occurrence theoretically should be less.

From the perspective of the Thoroughbred industry, two factors that contribute to equine communicable disease spread are population densities and the frequent movement of animals for breeding or participation at performance venues. It should be no surprise that during the past three decades, communicable disease events such as contagious equine metritis (CEM) and equine viral arteritis (EVA) occurred among horses residing in Central Kentucky. This geographic area has the highest density of Thoroughbred breeding horses in the world, and the industry is dependent on the free movement of animals for its continued economic well-being. Recently, concerns over the apparent nationwide increase in equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) have prompted industry advocates to propose the development of uniform methods to minimize the risk of this disease to breeding farms.

If a communicable disease is widely distributed and causes--or has the potential to cause--significant economic loss, then the institution of a uniform method of surveillance and diagnosis may be appropriate. This is usually accomplished through mandated regulatory controls or through an industry-wide standard code of practice.

In general, adoption of prevention strategies can be either voluntary or regulated at the state or national level. Those imposed by regulatory authorities generally have an economic burden associated with regulation. There are monetary costs for personnel to monitor the process and financial repercussions associated with non-compliance, usually in the form of additional restrictions or fines for violations. An example of a highly regulated preventive program is the federal/state cooperative CEM program. This program has been successful in preventing the re-introduction of CEM into the United States by requiring both pre- and post-entry testing of all imported equines intended for breeding from countries where CEM is believed to exist. Since the program's inception in the late 1970s, thousands of stallions and mares have been screened and numerous carrier animals have been prevented from directly entering the United States.

Ideally, the adoption of a voluntary, yet uniform, code of practice would serve to minimize risk for disease and eliminate the costs of regulation. An example of a standardized list of protocols for disease control is the widely utilized Codes of Practice published by the Horserace Betting Levy Board in the United Kingdom. These codes have been adopted by a number of member states of the European Union and provide standards for diagnosis and control of a range of economically significant equine diseases. Specifically, they include codes for CEM, equine viral arteritis (EVA), equine herpesvirus (EHV), venereal infections caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and guidelines for strangles. Copies of the Codes of Practice can be downloaded from the Levy Board's home page at According to proponents of the Code, incidence of specific infectious disease outbreaks has decreased significantly in those countries in which they have been adopted.

Prevention of a highly contagious disease in an environment where the major species of interest is closely congregated and moves frequently depends on timely surveillance and the rapid notification of regulatory officials and other relevant parties. The adoption and utilization of well-defined voluntary standards of practice as opposed to mandated controls has the value of facilitating these efforts without adding an undue regulatory burden.

Author: Dr. Barry J. Meade, 859/257-4757, Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.

Reprinted from Equine Disease Quarterly, Department of Veterinary Science,Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky. 40546; 859/257-4757;

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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