African Horse Sickness Outbreak in South Africa

South African horse owners and veterinarians are managing an outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS) in the George area of southern South Africa, in the southeast region of the Western Cape. As of Feb. 28, 13 horses had died. Current outbreaks are not expected to affect the predicted removal of a European Union (EU) export ban on South African horses, as the outbreaks are at least 400 km (almost 250 miles) away from the country's "AHS-free zone," which is the metropolitan area of Cape Town at the southwestern tip of the nation.

African horse sickness is spread by Culicoides midges. Affected animals can show clinical signs ranging from pulmonary distress to heart failure, and the disease is often fatal. Owners in areas at risk for the disease are encouraged to vaccinate their horses. Currently, AHS is contained to its namesake continent. (For more information see

The first cases were reported in the George area in December 2005. George is near the coast, halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

James Kitching, deputy director of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture's veterinary laboratory, said, "Due to good rains in the infected zone (outside the Western Cape) during this summer (mid-October to mid-February), conditions are more favorable for the vectors, and we have the impression that more cases have occurred in the fringes of the infected zone. However, this is an impression and has not been confirmed."

South Africa has an AHS-control zone that covers the Western Cape, with three subzones--an AHS-free zone, a surveillance zone, and a protection zone. When cases were detected in the surveillance zone in 2004, the EU banned horses from South Africa. Reports suggested the EU might be lifting the ban in late March or early April, thus reopening the AHS-free zone for export of horses to the EU.

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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