Unknown Respiratory Disease Affecting Iceland's Horses

Iceland's national horse festival, the Landsmót, will continue as scheduled despite an outbreak of a yet-undiagnosed infectious respiratory disease, according to a statement from the Landsmót's executive committee and a veterinary official.

The country's preliminary breeding shows, currently in progress, will also continue as planned. However, additional breeding shows may be organized later for horses that are too ill to compete in the regular program.

"Horse owners are encouraged to keep the well-being of their horses in mind and refrain from attending breeding shows and qualifications with sick horses," the statement read.

The decision was made in Skagafjörŏur during a May 7 meeting between the executive committee and Sigríŏur Björnsdóttir, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Officer for Horse Diseases at Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Characterized primarily by a dry cough, the respiratory disease causes weakness and sometimes nasal drainage, shortness of breath, or, in more severe cases, fever. Symptoms can continue up to six weeks, according to a fact sheet provided by MAST.

"It is not possible to stop the epidemic," Björnsdóttir said. "Because it has such mild symptoms, it was already widespread when reported to official veterinarians." The disease is particularly common among riding horses because they are stabled with other horses, she added.

Although the source of the infection has not yet been identified, the most likely agent is a virus that is sometimes accompanied by a bacterial infection, according to Björnsdóttir. Most known epidemics have been ruled out, as well as any connection to the ash and gases emitted by the April 14 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull. "I can confirm that equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, and rhinoviruses have been excluded, and it has no relation to the volcanic eruption," she said.

The infection has spread rapidly since the first cases were reported in early April, leading veterinarians to believe this is a new disease to Iceland, according to the MAST fact sheet. "This suggests that the entire horse population is sensitive to infection, and therefore (there is) probably a new infectious agent involved in this country," it read.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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