On Feb. 7, the British Horseracing Authority announced it would cancel all races until at least Feb. 13 due to an outbreak of equine influenza.
According to The Guardian, three horses from Donald McCain’s stable in Cheshire, England, were confirmed to be infected on Feb. 6. The BHA cancelled all races on Feb. 7, because one horse from McCain’s yard had raced the day before and potentially exposed other horses. On Feb. 8, Horse And Hound reported that some non-racing events in the United Kingdom were canceling or restricting access to limit the risk of exposure.
The FEI published a press release issuing guidelines to protect horses from and prevent transmission of equine influenza following additional confirmed outbreaks of the virus in Belgium, France, Germany, Nigeria and the United States since the beginning of 2019.
Equine influenza is a highly contagious virus that causes respiratory disease in horses. The virus is endemic to most countries in the world, and outbreaks can have a severe impact on the equine industry, potentially resulting in restrictions on horse movement and canceled events.
“Vaccinating horses against equine influenza is key to combating the spread of equine influenza,” said FEI Veterinary Director Göran Åkerström. “It is important that all horses are vaccinated, regardless of whether or not they compete or come into contact with other horses, but there are also biosecurity measures that should be put in place, including best hygiene practices.”
All FEI horses must have an up-to-date vaccination history in their passports, and checks are carried out on entry to all FEI events.
The airborne virus can spread over a mile, depending on the environmental conditions, and can be easily transmitted between horses that are in close contact, such as attending events, group training and hunting, or between vaccinated and unvaccinated horses in the home yard.
Any horse that displays signs of illness should not leave their home stable. This also applies to any horse that has been in contact with a horse or horses that have equine influenza.
“This year we are seeing a return of the Clade 1 virus in infected horses,” said FEI Veterinary Advisor Caterina Termine. “Vaccinated horses have suffered only mild clinical signs of the disease and recovered quickly, but unvaccinated horses have been much more severely affected. The key message is: Get your horse vaccinated, monitor horse health extremely closely, and call your veterinarian if you have any concerns.”
The FEI’s comprehensive question and answer document on equine influenza is available here.