Equine Diseases Get a Closer Look

Federal officials are calling for more education, research, and cooperation when it comes to emerging equine diseases.

During the June 22 American Horse Council (AHC) National Issues Forum, a panel discussion on "Emerging Diseases: A Challenge to the Horse Industry" took center stage. It was co-hosted by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the AHC.

Among the diseases discussed were equine infectious anemia, contagious equine metritis, equine piroplasmosis, and equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy. The talks covered everything from initial reporting and treatment of diseases to international shipping restrictions.

Dr. Tim Cordes, a senior staff veterinarian with the USDA, noted that about 2 million horses a year received a Coggins test for EIA, and the cost of the test has jumped almost 20% from 1998 to 2005. He said about $60 million is spent on Coggins testing each year to find about 100 positives.

"I think we ought to be thinking about smarter testing," Cordes said, noting there are efforts to regionalize testing to make it more cost-efficient.

Dr. Angela Pelzel, also of the USDA, said equine piroplasmosis is "one of the most difficult (diseases) we have to deal with right now." Treatment and management of positives have been issues, she said.

Equine piroplasmosis is transmitted by certain types of ticks, but Pelzel said the disease can be spread through any exchange of blood or equipment such as needles and tattooing and dental equipment.

In 2008 in Florida, 20 horses that tested positive for the disease were found to have competed in unsanctioned races, where blood-doping or use of tainted equipment was suspected, Pelzel said.

In New Mexico, a veterinarian detected cases of equine piroplasmosis in Quarter Horses, so a link was found between unsanctioned races and sanctioned pari-mutuel races. Pelzel said there were 47 positives that led to new racetrack and state regulations on testing.

"We're finding needle involvement and tattooing equipment involvement, and we're talking about sanctioned racing," she said. "The bush tracks are one thing, but in (the New Mexico) case we're talking about horses are supposed to be following the rules."

USDA officials said they want to hear from equine industry representatives directly on how they want to handle issues such as reporting and controlling diseases. The next National Animal Health Monitoring Systems survey will be done in 2015.

The AHC annual forum also featured a legislative briefing and visits with members of Congress June 23.

(This article first appeared on Bloodhorse.com)

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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