There has been a significant outbreak of equine flu in the UK and Europe this year. It gained national press coverage when horse racing meets were cancelled on 7th February due to the risk of it spreading. There have since been hundreds of laboratory confirmed cases and many more suspected cases requiring treatment.
The equine influenza virus is highly contagious and even if a horse recovers from it there is still a risk of long term respiratory problems following it. Most of the cases of death by equine flu are from horses, donkeys or mules that were not vaccinated against it, but there have been cases where vaccinated horses have also lost their lives.
Vaccinating against the virus and keeping on top of it is very important to preventing the flu from developing but it is equally as important to treat the symptoms. Any animal owner knows how expensive veterinary treatment can be, especially when the vet comes to you as is usually the case with horses. For me, the cost far outweighs the risk of long term respiratory problems or loss of life!! Your vet can recommend the most suitable course of action to help your horse to recover. They will need to be isolated and careful measures will need to be put in place to prevent it from spreading to other horses that yours may share a yard/field with. Full box rest is important for their long term recovery, even after the symptoms are no longer showing.
Most shows and events are asking to see horse passports to check vaccination records before you are allowed to unload your horse. While horses with or showing signs of equine flu are asked not to travel, you cannot control the actions of others. When you do travel there are easy measures that you can take to prevent any further risk to your horse-
- Take your own water and drinking bucket
- Do not allow your horse to drink from communal water
- Do not let other horses drink from your horses water bucket
- Do not let your horse touch noses with or get too close to other horses
- Do not share feed buckets or haynets
- Do not let your horse graze where another horse may have grazed
- If the event is in a high risk area, consider if you really need to go
- Consider having a booster vaccination every 6 months instead of every 365 days
Some competition bodies have updated their rules in light of the equine flu outbreak, check out event info before travelling to competitions.
British eventing June update visit here
The Pony Club February update visit here
Info on reported cases visit the Equiflunet site here