Equine Influenza in France Linked to Unvaccinated Ponies at International Sale in Ireland

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Could there be anything more delightful in the horse world than a bustling Irish horse sale, with hundreds of robust Connemara ponies primped and pampered for sale by their market-conscious owners? An Irish horse sale should be one of those "must see" items on your equestrian life list.

Irish horse dealers have traditionally showcased their sale stock at horse shows and sales. This photo from 1975 shows Connemara ponies at Clifden,where a sale is still held. (Sean Hickln photo)

Irish horse dealers have traditionally showcased their sale stock at horse shows and sales. This photo from 1975 shows Connemara ponies at Clifden,where a sale is still held. (Sean Hickln photo)

On the other hand, is there anything more distressing than seeing a sick horse, and knowing it suffers from a contagious disease?

Taking care of a horse that has contracted a contagious disease is one of those "things to avoid" on another of your equestrian life lists. Being tangled up in a quarantine is close behind it on the list.

Government agencies in many countries around the world keeps tabs on outbreaks of contagious diseases in both humans and animals; they monitor the spread of a disease, and try to locate the source. The idea is to prevent disease, when possible, by vaccination and to prevent spread of any outbreaks by containing horses and limiting their movement.

An outbreak of a disease that can be traced to the international transport of horses is the least desirable scenario. And that's what happened last week in France.

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France had two outbreaks of equine influenza in October, and a third was announced today. They occurred in separate parts of France but in all three outbreaks, the disease was first identified in Connemara ponies that had recently been imported from Ireland.

Unfortunately, the ponies had been acquired at the same sale, which means that there may have been other infected horses on the premises, and that those horses could have been transported almost anywhere in the world.

The first outbreak was reported at a riding center in the Seine-et-Marne region, just east of Paris. The affected horse was a five-year-old unvaccinated Connemara mare that showed clinical signs of a cough, fever and nasal discharge. A positive diagnosis was made and five other horses at the center have already been affected.

The second case was in Finist?re, part of the region of Brittany. It is a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, and is the westernmost land in France. The affected horse was an unvaccinated five-year-old Connemara pony that also showed clinical signs of a cough, fever and nasal discharge. A positive diagnosis of equine influenza resulted; six other horses at the facility have been affected, according to the French government agency RESPE.

The two outbreaks have been epidemiologically linked as both ponies were bought from the same sale in Ireland.

The French government announced a third outbreak today, in the province of Mayenne in northwest France. Once again, the initial case was an unvaccinated pony imported from the Connemara sale in Ireland. Ten horses on that farm are affected so far.

Equine Influenza is highly contagious and can wreak havoc on a horse farm, riding stable, training center or event facility. An outbreak in Australia, which had been free of the disease, completely shut down the breeding and show scenes there in 2007; the country is still recovering.

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Organizers of the 2012 Olympics were dreading an outbreak of any sort of infectious disease in the months preceding the Games. An outbreak of equine influenza between May and July in France affected the conduct of the world's highest level of international show jumping.

Dr. Graeme Cook, FEI Veterinary Director, had to explain that horses that had shipped to La Baule from a show at Le Touquet would be stabled in a separate complex from the main group of horses. The World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE), became involved, and was communicating with the various chefs d'equipe for nations competing at La Baule.

Horses were tested for Equine Influenza at La Baule and, sure enough, three tested positive for the disease. However, they showed no symptoms, another frustrating aspect of equine influenza and some other contagious diseases. The horses were removed from the showground along with some horses that had been handled by the same grooms, and the show--including a CSI 5* Grand Prix and FEI Nations Cup--went on.

You could almost hear the FEI's leaders counting off the weeks until London.

Meanwhile, in England, an all-out assault on equine influenza was launched. The Animal Health Trust's Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance team worked with British equine veterinarians to offer free screenings for Equine Influenza for horses in which EI was suspected and from horses that had been in contact with competition horses that had been competing abroad.

To make matters more complicated, all nations--just like all states in the USA--have separate veterinary policies. In some countries, Equine Influenza, Equine Herpes Virus and even Equine Infectious Anemia are not strictly reported to government officials.

Horses have never traveled further, faster, or more easily. But the more they travel, the more we realize that the world is not a uniform place. Infectious diseases are a fascinating and dangerious x factor in our wide world of horse sports, breeding and recreation.

To learn more:

R?seau d'Epid?mio-Surveillance en Pathologie Equine (French government agency for horse health)

Animal Health Trust?EquiFluNet

China Reports 5500 Cases of Equine Influenza

Contagious Happens: How the Simplest Scenario Can Affect Your Horse

Equine Influenza Paralyzes Religious Festival in India

Tense Weekend in New Zealand as US Horse Imports (Falsely) Test Positive for Disease in Quarantine

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