French Equine Influenza Outbreak Stabilizing

A young foal has been euthanized due to severe respiratory illness contracted in the current outbreak of equine influenza among French sport horse farms. In general, however, the situation is stabilizing and has been well controlled, according to the RESPE (Réseau d'Epidémio-Surveillance en Pathologie Equine, or the Epidemiological Surveillance Network for Equine Diseases) in Caen, France.

Only four farms, all in the "bluegrass" horse breeding region of Normandy, have been affected since the first diagnosis was announced May 4, RESPE officials stated in recent press releases. "This is only one additional farm over the past 10 days, whereas normally we could have expected several dozens of farms being contaminated," one of the releases read.

RESPE attributes the low contamination rate to the "consciousness" and "professionalism" of veterinarians, farm managers and owners, and event organizers, the release added.

In particular, competing horses at the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Nations Cup show jumping event in La Baule, France, were at risk of exposure which could have threatened to spread the disease internationally. However, a "stage-by-stage approach" of the risk, as it developed, during the event may have contributed to successful prevention, according to FEI veterinary director Graeme Cooke, MA, VetMB, MRCVS.

At a time when the FEI is currently promoting easier movement of high-level horses between countries, the epidemic's effect at La Baule could have been critical. But strict vaccination protocol, close veterinary monitoring, and the separation or removal of possibly infected horses appeared to keep contagion to a minimum, according to Cooke. "To our knowledge, none of the horses came away from La Baule infected," Cooke told The Horse. "Considering the challenges we were up against, it all worked out extremely well. There was good sport, and the risk was managed."

The situation at La Baule was a "clear reminder" that vaccination is essential and that "we must always maintain a high degree of vigilance," he said.

The 10-day-old foal which was euthanized at one of the affected Normandy farms tested positive for equine influenza via nasal swab analysis, the RESPE reported. The foal's dam had fallen ill with influenza three days after foaling. She had not been vaccinated against the disease.

Most of the young horses in these sport horse farms had not been vaccinated, but the RESPE recommends that foals be vaccinated prior to weaning, with booster shots every six months, the press release stated.

No new cases have been reported since May 21, but all four farms currently remain under strict quarantine, according to the RESPE. The French equestrian society is not discouraging other horse owners from attending group events at this time, and all scheduled events will continue as planned.

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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