Ireland is the latest pin in the map for regions affected by unusual outbreaks of equine disease. In Ireland, horses are a major export, and anything that might affect the health of the horse population or possibly cause a quarantine or export ban is of vital importance.
Veterinarian Joe Collins of Veterinary Ireland's Equine Group wrote a thoughtful editorial in today's Irish Examiner newspaper:
"(Equine Infectious Anemia) EIA has affected only about 30 horses to date, but the disease outbreak is far more important than this number would suggest. About 20,000 Coggins blood tests have been run. Horses and premises have been placed under Department of Agriculture and Food (DAF) Restriction Orders.
"Why so? Remember our experience of foot-and-mouth disease.
"Our international trade in horses may not rival the meat export trade in financial terms but it's high profile stuff and growing too - we have an enviable reputation to protect and the people to do it."
"It is generally believed that a batch of unlicensed, contaminated imported plasma was the source of disease. Both Germany and Italy suffered EIA outbreaks in 2006. The root cause is similar: ever increasing movement of horses and medicines. An edge-of-Europe island nation we may be, but we're big in the business: people and pasture are our unfailing assets when it comes to the horse industry....We stand many of the world's premier stallions. The equine gene pool is vibrant here. And governments financially support their breeders to upgrade by trading here."
He concludes his poignant editorial with an ominous prediction:
"In a vulnerable population of horses like ours we can expect that most of those exposed will develop disease. The signs can be severe: profound fever, weakness, anaemia and death. They may be more subtle: dullness, loss of appetite, jaundice, swelling of the limbs, apparent recovery.
"The former group of horses represent a regrettable loss to the individual owner, the latter a significant risk to the industry as a whole. 'Recovered' horses don't recover fully. They remain persistent carriers of virus and a possible source of spread to others.
"They must be removed."
Ireland's best-known equine hospital, Troytown Veterinary Hospital in County Kildare, has been closed by the outbreak. The National Hunt Racing season is in full swing, with horses criss-crossing the Irish Sea to compete in Ireland and England.
The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association is strongly recommending that all mares to be covered in 2007 have two negative EIA certificates from a recognised laboratory. The first should be taken this month, and the second should be be taken within 28 days prior to transport to studs or foaling units.
The newspaper ran a multi-page special section on the equine industry; the site requires registration, but it may be worth it to read about this equine health issue from the perspective of an island nation with a strong horse economy.
Link to Joe Collins editorial: "It's far more important than numbers would suggest"
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