Two Massachusetts horses test positive for strangles

The highly contagious bacterial infection spreads through direct contact, making biosecurity crucial in preventing outbreaks.
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Horses in two Massachusetts counties have tested positive for strangles since the beginning of this month, according to The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC).

The first case was confirmed on December 4 in Bristol County. The horse was kept at a public boarding facility where 10 other horses were potentially exposed. The EDCC reports no other cases among those horses. The second case was in a horse at a private facility in Plymouth County. There is no report of other horses potentially exposed.

Also called equine distemper, the infection known as strangles typically begins 10 to 12 days after exposure to S. equi bacteria. First the horse experiences a high fever, depression, appetite loss and enlargement of the lymph nodes between the jawbones. Copious amounts of thick, yellow pus begin draining from the nostrils, and before three weeks are up, the abscessed nodes at the throat may burst open to drain.

Click here to read an in-depth article on the many myths about strangles. 

The disease's descriptive name comes from the "strangling" noise produced as severely affected horses struggle to draw breaths into their obstructed airways. Aside from observing the obvious physical signs in diagnosis, veterinarians can run cultures of the nasal drainage to see if it contains the streptococcal organism.

Exposure often occurs when a new horse, who's shedding the S. equi bacterium without visible signs of sickness, is introduced into a herd. The organisms spread from horse to horse through direct contact, such as touching muzzles, environmental contamination and shared equipment, such as feed buckets and bridles. Strangles spreads rapidly, producing large outbreaks in herds not previously exposed or vaccinated. The infection is especially aggressive in populations of foals and young horses

Most horses recover, but fatalities do occur, primarily from secondary pneumonia that takes hold in debilitated or immune-compromised animals. And every now and again, S. equi infect lymph nodes deeper within the body, producing a more dangerous condition called bastard strangles.

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