Between early December 2018 and the time of writing (7th February 2019) there have been outbreaks of equine influenza (EI) reported in the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium and Germany. Cases have occurred in both vaccinated and unvaccinated horses and all infections so far classified have been associated with a strain of the virus not commonly isolated in Europe since 2009.
In the UK, cases have been confirmed in Essex, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Suffolk and Yorkshire. Some samples from within the UK have been positively diagnosed at Rossdales Laboratories.
EI is a highly contagious viral infection and is transferred from one infected horse to another via respiratory tract secretions for example when a horse coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include: a harsh dry cough, elevated temperature (>38.5°c), loss of appetite, watery nasal discharge which might become purulent (thick) if secondary bacterial infection has occurred. The lower limbs might swell and the lymph nodes (glands) under the jaw and throat might become enlarged. Vaccinated horses might still show clinical signs but in a milder form. In some countries where large outbreaks have occurred previously, a small number of horses have died as a result of this infection.
If your horse is showing any symptoms of respiratory disease, please contact your vet.
While some vaccinated horses are showing signs of disease in a few of these outbreaks, vaccinating your horse will at the very least help to reduce the severity of symptoms and slow the spread of disease to other horses. We strongly advise all owners to ensure that their horses’ influenza vaccinations are up to date. If your horse is almost due a booster, consider, bringing the date of vaccination forward rather than waiting, particularly if you are going to be competing or coming into contact with other horses.
For optimal protection, unvaccinated horses or those whose vaccinations have lapsed, two vaccines must be given approximately four weeks apart (or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations). Protective antibody levels usually take around two weeks to develop following the second vaccination.
Further information about equine influenza is available on the Animal Health Trust website.
If you have any questions or a suspected case of equine influenza, contact our vets on 01638 663150 (Newmarket), 01638 577754 (Hospital), 01462 790221 (Hertfordshire), 01488 01488 683522 (Lambourn), or our laboratory on 01638 663017.
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