Category Archive : News

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.


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.

Lions and Tigers and Glanders

Glanders, a very serious disease of horses, donkeys and mules caused by infection with the bacterium Burkholderia mallei, has made the news again in a rather unusual manner – it has been reported as the cause of an outbreak in lions and a tiger at an Iranian zoo in Tehran.

The story goes that two Amur tigers arrived at the Tehran zoo from Eastern Russia in April 2010 as part of an exchange program between the two countries. The tigers were supposed to be used to help restore the tiger population in northern Iran on the Miankaleh nature reserve, but their living quarters there were apparently still not ready, and thus they were being kept at the zoo. One of the tigers died in December 2010.

And that’s were the story starts to get a little dicey. The Iranians claim the tigers were imported already carrying the disease, and that the last case of glanders at the zoo was 50 years ago. The tigers had already been at the zoo for eight months – although the incubation period for glanders can be months in some cases, it is normally only weeks. The Russians of course insist that the tigers were completely healthy when they were transferred – they’d been thoroughly examined and quarantined prior to being moved. (This makes the most sense to me, since transporting an animal such a long distance is a major stress and increases the risk of illness, and transporting an animal that is already sick would be even more risky. Not a chance I would take with two members of a species of which there are fewer than 900 individuals left in the world.) They also pointed out that a sick tiger from the cold regions of Russia would be much more likely to succumb to illness during the very hot Iranian summer, not during the winter.

Another report said that three lions at the zoo also died from glanders in the last two months, and subsequently, another 14 lions were diagnosed with the disease, all of which were put down by the authorities. The main concern seemed to be the spread of the disease from the big cats to the feral cat population, and then to the human population. This second report states that “the tiger died after being fed contaminated meat, though it is possible it could also be related to the glanders.”  Yet another report said that the tiger was infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV – the feline equivalent of HIV).

Facts to keep in mind:

  • Glanders is an highly contagious disease, and highly fatal (B. mallei is even classified as a Class B bioterrorism agent).
  • Animals that do recover from the disease can become long-term carriers of B. mallei, and are a risk to other animals (and people). Prompt euthanasia of affected animals is therefore often the primary means of controlling outbreaks (but the bacterium is susceptible to antibiotics).
  • The infection can be transmitted to other animals (and people), usually through close direct contact or contact with oral and nasal secretions and discharge from skin ulcers. It can also be transmitted by eating tissues from infected animals.
  • The bacterium is killed by most disinfectants, and UV radiation (sunlight).

Glanders can affect species other than equids, including people and cats, however there is very little information available about glanders in any felids, let alone lions and tigers. Theoretically it might be possible for the disease to spread from the zoo animals to feral cats and then to people, but I don’t know how many feral cats are brave (or stupid) enough to wander into a lion enclosure. There’s also a possibility that a glanders-positive feral cat may have infected the zoo cats (but again, it would have to be very brave, or very stupid). It is also unclear what tests were used to confirm that the big cats were infected with glanders, and it is unknown if other animals at the zoo have been tested. Since this is typically a disease of equids (and has also been found in goats and camels), I would certainly be checking these animals first.

The big question is, where did the glanders come from in the first place? It seems unlikely that the tigers brought it from Russia, when the disease is actually endemic in Iran (even though they’d had no diagnosed cases at the zoo for many years). Is there a carrier animal in the zoo? Were the animals infected by eating contaminated meat? Was it brought in by feral cats?  The source needs to be identified and addressed or animals will continue to be infected, which is particularly bad news for the kinds of rare species that may be found in a zoological collection. Some more details about the testing would also be appreciated – given the severity of this disease, and the severity of the consequences for positive animals (euthanasia), one needs to be as sure as possible that these animals are infected with B. mallei and not something else.


Equine Infectious Anemia In Missouri

Two Missouri horses have been diagnosed with equine infectious anemia (EIA), a serious reportable disease for which control measures are equally serious and aggressive.

The two horses from northeastern Missouri were diagnosed with the infection in January. The first horse, a Belgian, was diagnosed on January 5 and was promptly euthanized – because of the seriousness of EIA and the potential for transmission to other horses, prompt euthanasia or transportation of any positive horse to an approved quarantine facility is required. Two days later, another horse on the farm was diagnosed and was also euthanized.

The disease, caused by equine infectious anemia virus, is spread by certain biting insects or cross-contamination of blood (e.g. reusing needles), so finding more than one infected horse on a property isn’t too surprising. While the response to an infected horse may seem draconian, EIA can cause widespread and severe illness, and elimination of carriers (i.e. positive horses, which are all infected for life) is a critical component of keeping it under control.

Six-hundred and ninety-six (696) other horses, including horses from nearby farms and horses in contact with the infected horse, have been tested in response to these two positive animals, which is another indicator of how seriously control of this disease is taken.  All the other horses tested were negative, and there is currently no evidence that any other horses are infected.

The fact that no other infected horses were identified is good, as it’s unlikely the virus has spread widely in the area. However, it doesn’t explain where these horses got infected. EIA virus doesn’t occur spontaneously – it had to come from somewhere. The origin of the infection is presumably being investigated, but it can be tough to find. Some infected horses have chronic infections with few or no (or intermittent) clinical signs. Therefore, an infected horse can be a source of infection for some time before it is identified, particularly if it is not required to be tested for transportation or competition (using a Coggin’s test). There was another horse in Missouri that tested positive for EIA in August 2010 as well.  Hopefully, this isn’t a “tip of the iceberg” situation, and Missouri officials hopefully have a good idea of the true number of infected horses. Only time will tell, unfortunately.

Beulah Park Herpes Quarantine Lifted…But What Have We Learned?

Another month, another outbreak, another quarantine. But has anything changed to make future outbreaks less likely?

Last week, the Ohio Department of agriculture lifted a quarantine of Beulah Park after an equine herpesvirus (EHV) outbreak was contained. Since 30 days had elapsed since the last sick horse was identified, it was determined that disease transmission was no longer ongoing (a routine guideline, although herpesvirus lays dormant in a large percentage of healthy horses). The outbreak ultimately resulted in the deaths of 3 horses, plus a lot of angst, hassle and presumably financial loss to people at the facility.

While it’s good to see that the outbreak was contained, and while we know that absolute prevention of every outbreak is impossible, something that too often does not occur following outbreaks is a post-outbreak review to determine what went wrong, how it can be prevented in the future and how things can be managed better next time.

I don’t think I’ve ever been involved with or heard of an outbreak where, at the end of it, you can honestly say “that was completely non-preventable and we did everything absolutely perfectly.” Unless you can say that, a post-outbreak review is in order.

One major problem with infectious disease control in the horse industry is the tendency to be reactive, not proactive. Once an outbreak is underway, aggressive measures may be implemented and most people (hopefully) make a concerted effort to get things under control. However, memory tends to be very short-term, and people quickly revert back to their baseline (and often suboptimal) practices once the outbreak is over. It’s unfortunate that it is so uncommon for people to review the circumstances of an outbreak and make substantial, long-lasting changes to reduce the risk of problems in the future.

  • Every farm needs an infection control plan, regardless of its size. It doesn’t have to be cumbersome or complex, but in general, the bigger the farm and the more horse movement, the more detailed it needs to be.
  • Outbreak response needs to be part of the plan, to make sure that things get done properly and quickly in the event of a problem.
  • While outbreak response is important, the baseline level of “routine” infectious diseases (i.e. the endemic rate of disease) is actually even more important, so emphasis needs to be placed on baseline infection control practices.
  • Whenever something goes wrong, a careful review needs to be performed to figure out what happened and how to prevent it in the future. Most importantly, any plans that are made need to be implemented and maintained over time.