EIA: British Horse Owners Advised Not to Panic

The British Horse Society is urging horse owners not to panic after two horses in Wiltshire, England, tested positive for equine infectious anemia (EIA), also called "swamp fever."

Equine infectious anemia is an untreatable disease of horses, donkeys, and mules, spread by the exchange of bodily fluids, including via insect vectors. Affected horses remain infectious carriers for life, and must be euthanized or permanently quarantined to prevent transmission to other horses. This is the first occurrence of the disease in Great Britain since 1976.

"Obviously any outbreak of an exotic disease is very worrying and this is news that we did not want to hear," said Lee Hackett, head of Welfare at the British Horse Society. "However, there is no reason to panic and every reason to hope that these cases will form an isolated incident and be successfully contained."

Hackett credited the quick action of the Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) with keeping the cases contained, and also noted that a recent cold snap should reduce the likelihood of transmission to other horses.

However, World Horse Welfare raised concerns surrounding import procedures. The infected horses were imported from Romania, where EIA is endemic, in December.

"It is incredibly encouraging that post import checks appear to have worked in this instance," the group noted in a statement. "However this incident raises serious questions. We are gravely concerned that these horses were ever able to leave Romania and to travel across Europe so easily. There is a legal requirement for health certification before export from Romania, which includes blood testing for EIA."

The British Equine Veterinary Association also released a statement reminding veterinarians of the risk of iatrogenic transmission of the disease, and advised members to, "continue to follow best practice at all times when treating or testing animals or using equipment, such as dentistry equipment, on multiple animals."

DEFRA Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens, BVetMed, MSc, MRCVS, said yesterday the infected horses appeared healthy. Horse and Hound confirmed the infected horses have been euthanized and the Wiltshire premises quarantined.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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