African Horse Sickness: Is Europe Doomed?

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The Horse Trust charity in Great Britain recently warned that midge-borne viruses which have already seriously affected sheep and cattle in Europe are poised to strike the United Kingdom's equine population. The Trust has predicted mortality rates of around 90 percent from African Horse Sickness.

The Trust is calling on the British Government to advise on what plans are in place to deal with an outbreak of African Horse Sickness in Britain; assess the likely impact of a UK outbreak of African Horse sickness on the country's ?4bn equine industry and support research into the prevention and control of African Horse Sickness in the UK.

Paul Jepson, Chief Executive and resident veterinary surgeon of the Horse Trust said: "Recent changes in climate and midge populations in Europe have resulted in the rapid and extensive spread of Bluetongue virus - which hit cattle and sheep in Holland, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and France in 2006.

"African Horse Sickness is related to Bluetongue and is spread by the same midge (Culicoides species). It can kill up to 90 percent of the horses it infects."

There are multiple serotypes of this Orbivirus and the only vaccines currently available are live attenuated preparations manufactured in South Africa. These vaccines are not licensed for use in Europe, although they can be used as an emergency response when the disease has taken hold.

Research institutes and vaccine manufacturers are already working to develop more effective and safe cattle and sheep vaccines for Bluetongue.

The Horse Trust is anticipating that the disease could reach the UK this year.

Infected midges can be blown by the wind for more than 100km and transported long distances in farm vehicles.

The Horse Trust is a leading equine charity in Great Britain. Until recently it was known as the Home of Rest for Horses. The Trust funds millions of dollars worth of equine research in Britain each year.