In February this year we reported on the confirmed outbreaks of equine influenza across Europe, and in particular an outbreak of equine influenza (EI) in Essex. We are now aware of new, current cases of EI in our practice area and wish to again alert horse-owners and yard managers of the disease and the risk it presents to the local equine population.
Equine flu is a viral infection
EI is a viral infection which causes respiratory disease. It is endemic in the UK national herd, so it is likely horses will come into contact with the virus. Although much of the publicity surrounding the February 2019 outbreak in the UK, has subsided and EI is no longer in the daily headlines, new cases are frequently recorded. Indeed, the last week in May saw the second highest number of confirmed outbreaks in one week in 2019 (data source: AHT)
Symptoms of EI include a high temperature, clear discharge from the nose and eyes, a dry harsh cough, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes (glands). The nasal discharge turns to green or yellow (see above) if there is a secondary bacterial infection which develops in the already immunocompromised, sick animal. EI is rarely fatal but it is highly contagious and disrupts training and competition schedules.
Treatment is symptomatic and supportive and includes medication for the fever and any secondary infections. Rest is vital and premature return to exercise can compromise the respiratory tract causing potential long-term complications.
Transmission of EI is by contact with the virus, either by infected horses via the air or by mechanical transmission via clothes, tack, tools etc. It is highly contagious, and with a short incubation period, signs of infection exhibit as quickly as 2 days after initial exposure. Horses remain infectious for up to 10 days following symptoms even if they appear to be clinically improved in themselves. This virus spreads rapidly through an equine population and there is usually a 100% infection rate.
Vaccination for equine influenza is effective in limiting spread of the virus and decreasing the severity of infection if exposure occurs. Also, if infection does occur, vaccinated horses shed less virus in their nasal secretions.
Now that the competition season is well underway and there is increased movement of horses, it is likely there will be further outbreaks of EI. In addition to being aware of the signs and symptoms, we encourage everybody to practice effective biosecurity when at competitions and shows. Also ensure rigorous biosecurity is implemented for all new arrivals at your yard and that all vaccinations are up-to-date and recorded properly in passports.
Various equestrian disciplines and authorities have their own EI vaccination requirements, and the British Equestrian Federation recommend booster EI vaccination every 6 months to ensure best possible protection. It is important that the primary course is administered in strict accordance with recommendations – please get in touch with our office should you wish to clarify your horse’s vaccination status or if you have any other concerns.
In addition to competition and show animals, horses and ponies who never leave home remain at risk – even if they live alone. EI virus has airborne transmission and it is important not to assume that because your horse or pony has no immediate contact with others it will be safe from infection. The most recent infection in our area is to a group of horses who do not leave their own yard environment.
Equine influenza vaccinations are an insurance policy and provide protection against severe infection from EI. If your horse or pony is not currently up to date with vaccinations, we recommend you get in touch with the office on 01462 414008 or via the online appointment booking form to arrange a vaccination visit.
Once again, please do get in touch with us if you would like clarification or any advice about vaccinations.