Statement on equine influenza outbreaks in vaccinated horses

1 April 2019

Now the competition season has well and truly kicked-off for equestrians, we have come up with a handy guide to reduce the risk, both to your horse and other horses, of acquiring and spreading equine flu when attending any equine event.

Don’t forget, if you have any concerns about your horse’s health, always consult your vet.

Download our events guide here

 

25 February 2019

We have confirmed more cases of equine flu across the UK in the last week, taking the latest totals to 37 outbreaks across 20 counties in England and Scotland.

This is a strain of flu not commonly seen in the UK and Europe in recent years. All samples sent to the Animal Health Trust for diagnosis are also subjected to vigorous analysis by our research team ensuring evidence on how the virus is effecting the horse population is gathered. This information is then used to inform the Expert Surveillance Panel when it comes to looking at what flu strains should be included in vaccines going forward.

This is one reason why sending samples to the Animal Health Trust for analysis is superior to a number of horse-side testing options available. Only through comprehensive analysis in a laboratory can new knowledge be gained on how this endemic disease continues to change and mutate, and this, in time, helps the entire UK horse population.

We continue to look at how current vaccines are performing, and still recommend six-monthly boosters to ensure optimal immunity whilst there is a heightened risk.

With many people looking forward to the start of the eventing season this weekend, we continue to recommend five basic protocols for protection against equine flu. We have created a poster detailing these which you can download and share below.

Download equine flu protocols poster

 

18 February 2019

We are seeing more cases of equine flu than we would normally expect, due to a new strain of flu in circulation. Through our own laboratories, we continue to test samples from horses suspected of having flu. To 17 February 2018, we have confirmed 29 flu outbreaks across 17 counties in England and Scotland.

Equine flu is endemic in the UK. This means that a number of cases of flu are always expected to be seen, as the virus is constantly circulating within the UK horse population. Owners should ensure they are aware of the symptoms of flu and call their vet immediately to make a fast diagnosis, to avoid the spread of the infection.

Vaccinated horses should have a level of protection to this new strain. If vaccinated horses are exposed to the virus, clinical signs should be milder and they should get better faster than an unvaccinated horse. This has been demonstrated in the vaccinated cases seen so far this year. We continue to emphasise the importance of vaccination in protecting horses against equine flu.

Reassuringly, the charity confirms that vaccines are providing a better degree of protection than was initially thought when disease outbreaks became apparent in Europe, especially when recent boosting has been implemented. We recommend that all horse owners revaccinate their horse if the booster vaccination was given more than six months ago.

It is clear that this strain of the virus (Florida Clade 1 H3N8) is not going away and is taking advantage of any opportunity given to it to spread among our horse population. Collectively, we all need to do everything we can to minimise these opportunities.

The Animal Health Trust recommends five basic protocols:

Vaccinate – boost your horse’s vaccination if it was given more than six months ago and encourage others to do the same. If your horse is not vaccinated, it will need to start a course of vaccinations and will not have protection until two weeks after the second vaccine in the course is given.

Isolate – what biosecurity measures are in place at your own yard? Immediately isolate new or unwell horses away from the main yard to help prevent the disease spreading. Flu is easily spread amongst a group of horses. Make sure you know your own biosecurity policies, and if you’re not sure ask the yard owners and managers.

Investigate

#1 if you suspect equine flu, call your vet immediately to investigate

#2 if you’re planning to attend an event or equine gathering, speak to the organisers and ask about their biosecurity policies – what is in place to minimise the spread of disease at the event / gathering? If you are not comfortable with what is in place, don’t attend!

Communicate – we encourage vets and horse owners to be open if they have a suspected or confirmed outbreak, to help minimise the spread of flu to others.

Mitigate – horse owners are encouraged to do all they can to know the risk of moving their horse or attending an event. Gather as much information as you can to enable you to mitigate against the risk and make your own sensible decision based on this.

Horse owners – if you suspect flu, please speak to your vet. We are unable to offer you specific advice as every situation has so many varying factors. Your vet is best placed to give you relevant and useful advice. Thank you.

Dr Richard Newton
Dr Richard Newton, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance

12 February 2019

The Animal Health Trust fully supports the decision made by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) on 11 February 2019 to allow a risk-managed return to racing from Wednesday 13 February.  Results from the AHT’s laboratory testing and expert opinion from one of its senior staff who sits on the BHA Veterinary Committee contributed to the decision made by the committee.

The approach taken by the BHA last Wednesday to suspend all racing until all the risks could be properly understood was essential to prevent this virulent strain of flu spreading to more horses, during a time when there was still uncertainty about the ability of vaccination to effectively prevent disease. By halting racing and the associated movement of racehorses around the country, the BHA has helped prevent inadvertent spread of this highly contagious disease among all of the UK’s equine population.

The AHT has received a year’s worth of samples to test in just a few days, but by undertaking this testing and analysis we have been able to help contain the spread of this virus.  However, I would still urge horse owners to remain extremely vigilant and to follow recommended guidelines on how to detect and prevent the spread of this infectious disease.  If a horse owner is concerned they should consult their vet as soon as possible.

Dr Richard Newton
Dr Richard Newton, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance

7 February 2019

Following three confirmed equine Influenza (flu) outbreaks in vaccinated horses in a British racing yard on 6 February 2019, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has taken the decision to cancel racing at all British racecourses until Wednesday 13 February 2019. This is a precautionary measure to restrict the movement of Thoroughbred race horses and prevent any further spread of the flu virus within the racing community. This is a standard contingency in the event of an infectious disease within UK racing, in order to assess the scale and severity of the outbreak. Results of tests over the next few days will help the industry decide on any further action.

It is not currently being recommended that other, non-racing, equine events are cancelled but this might change depending on how the disease develops.

At the Animal Health Trust (AHT) we fully support this decision and we are keeping the BHA and the BHA’s industry veterinary committee advised on developments as and when they occur.

The AHT’s advice to horse owners remains the same. Horse owners are being urged to remain extremely vigilant and should be aware of the clinical signs of EI which include harsh, dry coughing, nasal discharge, lethargy and an increase in temperature (>38.5°c). These clinical signs may be mild and not all horses will present with all of these. If a horse owner is concerned they should consult their vet as soon as possible who can take a swab and blood sample and send it for testing, free of laboratory charges, to the Animal Health Trust’s equine influenza surveillance scheme which is funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board.

Equine flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the equine influenza virus. The virus is spread from horse to horse via respiratory droplets by direct contact as well as coughing and via indirect contact where appropriate biosecurity is not being followed. The virus relies on this transmission to new horses to survive and one of the most notable features of flu is the very quick spread of clinical signs in groups of horses and its ability to spread large distances in the air. Therefore horse owners are encouraged to consider their existing biosecurity arrangements in their yard. This includes ensuring they practice good general hygiene and isolating any horses showing flu-like signs.

The AHT is also recommending horse owners re-vaccinate their horse if their vaccination was carried out over 6 months ago, in order to maximise the chance of having protective immunity.

The decision by the British Horse Racing Authority to cancel racing is necessary in order to restrict, as far as possible, the risk of further spread of equine flu whilst we understand better the situation on the ground. Our advice to horse owners is to be extremely vigilant and to follow recommended guidelines on how to detect and prevent the spread of this infectious disease. If horse owners are concerned they should contact their vet immediately for advice.

Dr Richard Newton
Dr Richard Newton, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance