Month: October 2019

UK Man Faces Prosecution Over Poor Equine Infection Control

A horse dealer from North Wales has the dubious honour of being the first person in the country to face criminal charges for failing to take reasonable equine infection control measures. Details are limited, but he has been charged because he neglected to properly isolate a horse imported from Ireland. (Presumably, the concern was the risk to other horses created by failing to quarantine the imported animal.) People are taking this as a signal that UK enforcement officers may be taking equine infectious diseases and their prevention more seriously.

There are two main areas of infection control in which litigation may play a role, and perhaps the threat of charges or a civil lawsuit is the “stick” that some people need to do things right. One area is, like this case, violation of government regulations, which can result in criminal charges against those whose actions put horses at risk of (primarily foreign) infectious diseases. This is typically going to involve importation of animals, since control of foreign diseases is a major mandate of government organizations. There tends to be less interest in or effort put toward diseases that may be relatively common in the country and among resident horses, despite the major impact many of these diseases can have on the equine population. The other potentially litigious area, one that is potentially great but which hasn’t really been tested yet, is people getting sued in civil court because actions they took (or failed to take) put other horses at risk. A classic situation would be someone who takes a horse from a barn with a strangles outbreak, moves to another facility without any quarantine, and causes a new outbreak. There would be potential for someone to sue for costs of the outbreak and its control, particularly if deliberate disregard for standard protocols could be proven. The hard part is really determining what constitutes the minimum level of precautions individuals can be expected to take, since there are few formal, clear, written guidelines regarding infectious disease control in horses.

Given the increasingly litigious nature of society, and the potentially huge problems with infectious diseases, I’m sure there will come a time when someone tries to sue someone else for causing an infectious disease outbreak. Even if you ultimately win, you don’t want it to be you, so make sure you are being as proactive as possible with infectious disease control.

More Disappearing Biohazardous Horses

It seems that US piroplasmosis horses aren’t the only quarantined horses that vanish. A horse from the Bijnore district in India was diagnosed with glanders, a particularly concerning infectious disease where euthanasia is usually the main control measure. The owner requested a second test, and that was granted, but when officials went to get another sample from the horse, both the horse and owner had disappeared. So, now there’s a biohazardous horse on the run in the area, posing a threat to other horses (and people).

While breaking legally-required quarantine is uncommon, people break infection control recommendations all the time. Whether it’s breaking out a quarantined horse, or taking a horse from a property with a strangles outbreak to another farm with no precautions, unnecessary risks are created.

Why do people do this? Knowing why can help figure out if it can be prevented.

Economic necessity

In the Indian case, the owner’s livelihood was dependent on the horse. I’m not sure whether compensation was going to be paid for the loss of the horse if it was to be euthanized. In a case like this, compensation for state-required euthanasia is very important to help make people comply. It doesn’t overcome the issue of emotional attachment to the horse, but if there is no compensation, it increases the chance that people will try to break the rules.

Selfishness

That’s a big problem. Some people get caught up in what they want to do and ignore the risks they pose to others. Taking a horse that has been exposed to strangles to a show because they don’t want to miss the show is a classic example of that.

Lack of understanding

This is a big issue and one that needs to be addressed. If people don’t understand why something is being mandated, they may be less likely to comply.

Simply saying, “your horse tested positive for disease X and must die” isn’t adequate. There needs to be enough information, at an appropriate level, so that people can understand why this is happening.

For example, instead of saying “you should not go to shows for X period of time because there was a strangles outbreak on the farm,” you need to say something along the lines of even though your horse looks normal, it may have been exposed to strangles. Because of that, it could spread the disease to other horses. It’s a serious disease and you don’t want to be the cause of an outbreak. Also, if you knowingly take a high-risk horse to a show and an outbreak occurs, you could be liable. However, we can come up with a plan to test your horse and control the outbreak so that we can get you back showing ASAP.” It won’t work for everyone, but for many people, a little information can go a long way.

Emotional attachment

This is an issue with mandatory euthanasia. Even if there’s compensation, if the horse is a beloved pet, it’s a hard thing to do. There’s no easy way around it. Providing as much information as possible can help people rationalize the decision, but it’s still going to be an unhappy situation.