Nigerian Polo Suffers Disease Outbreak

It’s amazing, this blog business. You never know who’s reading your posts…or where they are reading them.

The recent flurry of news about Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) in odd corners of the USA brought to light another outbreak of this highly infectious but increasingly common equine disease. And that location is far from the normal spotlight of our equestrian and racing reporting.

The news comes from Lagos, Nigeria, where polo is a National Big Deal. Polo clubs abound there and elsewhere in Africa, where a lively mix of Indian and Pakistani import workers share a love for the sport with the native Nigerians. And just to make it even more international, the ponies are a mix of expensive Argentine imports and native crossbreds.

Unfortunately, there are fewer polo ponies in Nigeria this week than last week. A recurrent outbreak of a disease thought to be EHV at other polo clubs in the country has now reached the capitol city, and our source says that 40 ponies died last week alone there.

The story might end here except that, in the literature of EHV there lies a documentation in the 1990s of a very high rate of EHV exposure in Nigerian polo ponies. It is probably the only study I have ever seen of Nigerian horses; it came from the vet school at the University of Ibadan there.

To quote the study’s abstract: “Eighty-two percent of horses tested with known antigen had precipitating antibodies to EHV-1 while 43% of sera tested against antigen prepared from nasal discharges were positive suggesting that the virus was being excreted in the nasal discharges and probably acting as a source of infection for incontact animals as occurs in on-going acute infections. The result of this study indicates a high prevalence of EHV-1 activity among polo horses in Nigeria and demonstrates the ubiquitous distribution of the virus in a country that has not been previously investigated.”

A previous study had documented the high incidence of toxoplasmosis in the polo ponies and compared the parasite counts in the Argentine ponies in comparison to the native ponies.

A quick check locally disclosed that the Nigerian team played in Newport, Rhode Island’s international tournament this summer and that teams from around the world visit Nigeria for their international tournaments, which includes a worldwide military polo tournament.

Apparently, polo and golf are the nation’s preferred sports.

UPDATE TO THIS STORY (January 18)from the International Society for Infectious Diseases: “Indications from equine veterinarians from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Ibadan currently investigating the Lagos polo outbreaks (in conjunction with the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), in Vom, Nigeria, which is the principal veterinary research institute in Nigeria, point rather to African horse sickness as the most likely diagnosis.”

By the way, if you’re interested in polo and/or racing in Africa, head to your local independently-owned bookshop and pick up a copy of West with the Night by Beryl Markham. This beautifully written memoir of life in the horse world of Kenya by one of earliest women flying aces reads like “Out of Africa” meets “Seabiscuit”…and it’s all true. Horses trained by Ms. Markham won the Kenya Derby six times. But there’s much more to this book that her string of victories. Her battle with a mysterious disease that affected the muscles of her racehorse is fascinating.




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