Last week the racing world came to a halt as three horses from Cheshire tested positive for equine flu. Horses from one yard had run at race meetings at Ayr, Ludlow and Wolverhampton the previous day, potentially exposing many other animals to the highly contagious disease.
The decision to cancel race days was not taken lightly by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) but as a necessary precaution to help prevent the potential spread of the disease. Since then cases have been identified in other counties across the country in both unvaccinated and vaccinated horses (as the three from Cheshire were), highlighting there is not complete effectiveness against the current strain.
Equine Influenza (EI) presents similarly to human flu with horses experiencing a dry cough, nasal discharge, raised temperature and lethargy. Although symptoms in vaccinated horses last a few days, more in unvaccinated animals, the effects on performance and full recovery can take weeks. There is no evidence to suggest the disease is harmful to humans.
The respiratory disease is incredibly contagious and can be passed from horse to horse directly and indirectly through airborne particles from coughing animals. It can spread over a wide area in this way which is why it is so important to isolate any equine showing signs of EI.
Racing yesterday resumed and it is looking likely that many meetings will go ahead this weekend, but the outbreak is not just contained to the racing industry. Of three separate cases identified in Scotland, Kent and Derbyshire this week none were thoroughbreds, but all had either recently arrived from Ireland or been in contact with other imported horses. For this reason, the British Equestrian Federation recommends isolating any imported horses for a minimum of 21-days.
The Animal Health Trust’s guidelines recommend owners remain vigilant to the symptoms of EI and re-vaccinate any horses if their vaccination was carried out more than 6 months ago. Isolate any horse showing signs of EI and contact your vet. They also urge owners to consider current biosecurity measures at their yards alongside good hygiene practice.