Salmonella bacteria can be a deadly problem in horse barns, as evidenced by the outbreak at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in May 2004. Yet there are simple steps you can take to protect your horses.
For stalls made of varnished or painted wood, painted concrete block or any other non-porous surface, remove most of the organic matter by low-pressure hosing (less than 120 psi) with a detergent. Rinse thoroughly, then -- following label directions -- spray the walls and floor if made of brick or concrete with a phenolic disinfectant such as Tek-Trol or 1-Stroke Environ. Allow the stall to dry.
If you have dirt, sand or clay floors, get up as much of the old organic matter as you can. Add fresh footing if necessary to level the surface. Spread lime to get the surface dry. Then use extra thick bedding to literally keep your horse's nose and mouth further away from possible contaminants. If you have loose rubber mats -- whether on dirt, wood, or concrete -- lift them and allow what's underneath to dry thoroughly while you scrub and disinfect the mats as you did the stall walls.
If your stall is lined with porous raw wood -- as most stalls are -- it will be extremely difficult to disinfect by this method. You can make the walls somewhat less porous by going over all the surfaces with a stiff brush to knock the dirt off (you can also hose the walls, but they must dry thoroughly before the next step). Patch cracks and knotholes with a wood filler such as Plastic Wood. When that's hard and dry, seal the wood with a couple of coats of marine-quality varnish or polyurethane. When that's dry, you have a smooth surface you can disinfect by the method already described above.
Steps to take during an outbreak
When disinfecting the sick horse's stall, spray it with two coats of disinfectant (and remember to disinfect high-traffic areas such as aisleways). Anything the sick horse eats or drinks from (buckets, automatic waterers, mangers, feeders, hay nets, etc.) needs to be similarly disinfected and rinsed thoroughly with drinkable water prior to re-use. Wear protective clothing -- including disposable booties, gloves and gowns. After caring for the sick horse and de-gowning, wash your hands with warm water and soap, followed by a 62 percent alcohol gel such as Purel? (available at most grocery stores) or foam such as Alcare.
Minimize outside traffic, and ask anyone who must come into the barn -- veterinarians, farriers, owners -- to wear disposable booties. Minimize traffic of wheelbarrows carrying manure -- they can literally close the "fecal-oral" loop by dragging contaminated feces from the sick end of the barn to the healthy. Keep pets out of the barn. They can carry the Salmonella bacteria on their paws and coats when they return home.
For more on Salmonella, see the Health News section of the August 2004 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.