Imagine this: Three weeks from now, horses from all over the world are planning to race in the Breeders Cup at California's Santa Anita track. They will fly in from France, from England, from Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Japan.
Now ramp up to "War of the Worlds" tempo:
Just as the last set of flights are set to wing their way to Los Angeles, word comes that Santa Anita is shut down by a contagious disease. There's a lockdown quarantine. The horses that are there, can't leave. The horses that want to get there to train, can't land. The race day is uncertain. The government veterinarians stand solid. Everything's up in the air, including millions of dollars in purses and the health and well-being of millions and millions and millions of dollars' worth of the world's most valuable horses.
When and if the horses leave, they could spread a disease to farms and training centers and racetracks all over the entire world.
Now, just to make the story even more Dick Francis-esque, make it a disease that is transmittable to humans. A disease that veterinary medicine gloated about erradicating years ago. A disease that is a footnote in the textbooks, because it doesn't "exist" anymore...except in certain third-world countries, once in a while.
The disease is called glanders, and this exact scenario played out last week in Brazil, which was set to host the world finals of the Global Champions Tour in S?o Paulo this month. Everything looked rosy, and the world's top riders and horses had booked their flights.
And then it happened: an outbreak of glanders. And not just in the host country, but near the host city. National health agencies around the world were consulted: if we take our horses there, can we be sure they will be allowed to re-enter Europe and the USA?
I am happy (I think) to report that the Global Champions Tour will still have its big final in S?o Paulo. The organizing committee has been able to provide the EU-commission with enough evidence to show that all necessary measures have been taken to ensure the health of the horses. These measures consist of strict quarantine during the horses? travel and stay in Brazil.
The original date of the final was from 8 to 12 October, but has been postponed for one week setting the new date from 15 to 19 October. Even though the date has been changed, the program of this 5-star event has not.
What happened? The Brazilian veterinary authorities reported on September 8, 2008 that glanders had been detected in a horse in the Sao Paulo region of south-east Brazil. The last time that glanders was reported in the south east of Brazil was in the 1960's.
Here's another scary sub-story: On the basis of the evidence that is currently available, it is possible that horses have been imported to the UK from this region of Brazil. Records show that since April 2008 four consignments (a total of 5 horses) have been imported into the UK from this area. As a result of the low but not negligible risk to UK horses, DEFRA (the British animal health authorities who handled the 2005 foot and mouth disease outbreak) are in the process of locating, isolating and re-testing the five horses known to have been imported directly to the UK from Brazil since April 2008 as a precautionary measure.
(Brazil, by the way, is a leading horse-producing nation. The native Marchador horses are well-loved and growing in populararity around the world. Fine Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds are bred there. But probably the leading breed for export are Lusitanos; many of the fine Lusitanos in the USA were originally imported from Brazil, not from Portugal.
It is important that equine veterinarians and horse owners around the world familiarize themselves with the clinical signs of glanders and report any suspected cases of the disease, especially in horses which may have originated from South America.
Further information on glanders can be obtained from the DEFRA website,
In North America, an excellent background paper on glanders is available online from the National Institutes for Health.
Finally here is a link to some news about testing for glanders from the University of Kentucky.
Glanders is a disease from the past but it is one of the few that can pass from horses to humans. Glanders and its sister disease, farcy, were the scourge of calvaries in days gone by and its eradication from North America and Europe has been a major step forward for the overall health of the horses who live here.
Like so many things, our progress is not always perfect. One false step and a global health crisis could erupt.
Consider this: the US government has openly published information that it believes that terrorist organizations might use glanders for bioterrorism purposes. It is believed that the German government used glanders for bioterrorist purposes in World War I to slow down the horse-mounted armies of its enemies.
Should you and I lose sleep about glanders? No, I don't think so. But I hope someone at the Department of Homeland Security is up late tonight, and every night, keeping track of this disease and what it might mean to us and our horses...and our world.
Thanks to the British Equine Veterinary Association for the British point of view and information about how they are handling the Brazilian horses.
? 2006-2007-2008 The Jurga Report: Horse Health Headlines. All rights reserved.
This post was originally published on October 7, 2008
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