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 – 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.
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.
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.