Learning from the Australian Equine Influenza Crisis

If there is one lesson to be learned from the ongoing (and seemingly worsening) equine influenza outbreak in Australia, it is how fragile the horse world is.

“Horse world” has two parts. Aussie EI has taught us that the “horse” in “horse world” isn’t just high-flying stakes horses at the track. It’s kids’ ponies. It’s zebras at the zoo. It’s police horses. And circus horses. And it’s me. And you.

The “world” in horse world is equally all-encompassing. While I monitor the Aussie crisis each day, I’m casting a wary eye on northern Europe and the British Isles, where the first cases of insect-borne “bluetongue” disease are showing up in farm stock. No, bluetongue doesn’t effect horses, but it is carried by the same types of southern insects that carry African Horse Sickness. Where bluetongue goes, AHS can easily follow.

As we ramp up to the Olympics in Hong Kong a scant 11 months from now, the risks seem higher than ever before. Horses from countries with AHS are usually subject to travel bans. The Aussie Olympians are fighting to get their horses vaccinated against Equine Influenza so they can be assured of travel and a healthy training period.

No matter where you look on the world map, horse and livestock diseases are in the news in 2007: Herpes in the USA, CEM in Austria, foot and mouth in England, EI in Australia and Japan, AHS in South Africa, EVA in Ireland, and even EEE and Lyme’s disease right here in my own backyard.

But 2007 is tumbling toward an end. For me, it has been a year of unexpected reporting on equine diseases and learning so much about not just how a disease affects a horse, but how an equine disease outbreak affects humans, especially those who make decisions that affect both sick and healthy horses. You just have to hope that good people are making good decisions for our horses.




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