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Equine July/August 2008 (Vol 3, No 6)

Emerging Infectious Disease in the Equine Industry—Future Perspectives

by Stacey Oke

    In the wake of the Australian horse flu outbreak, horse owners, trainers, veterinarians, and infectious disease researchers are collectively wondering what and who are next.

    Emerging infectious diseases are on the rise not only in horses but also in a number of other species because of alterations in the host"infectious agent"environment triad. In addition to the loss of use of animals or the loss of life, large economic burdens accompany disease outbreaks.

    The term emerging disease encompasses infections that either have been newly identified or exist elsewhere but have recently entered a new geographic area.

    According to Debra Sellon, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, professor of equine medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, the introduction of an infectious disease into new, previously disease-free areas poses a great risk to naive horse populations. Examples of outbreaks caused by the introduction of existing diseases into new areas include West Nile virus in New York (1999), equine infectious anemia in Ireland (2006), and horse flu in China (1989) and Australia (2007).

    "Foreign diseases such as African horse sickness, which is transmitted by Culicoides spp, is an excellent example of a potential threat to American horses," explains Sellon. "Culicoides spp are present in the United States, and with extensive international travel by both humans and horses, why wouldn't we be at risk for African horse sickness?"

    Other diseases that are currently foreign to the United States but could be introduced into North America include screwworm, dourine, equine piroplasmosis, epizootic lymphangitis, glanders, horsepox, and Japanese and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.

    Are American equine practitioners likely to recognize these infections? According to Sellon, coeditor of the textbook Equine Infectious Diseases, the responsibility of protecting horses lies with the first veterinarian who sees the first case and who must properly initiate quarantine and control measures. For equine practitioners, key factors in early recognition of emerging infectious diseases are to remain vigilant in disease surveillance and to obtain continuing education on the subject.

    As cited by Corrie Brown, DVM, PhD, in her chapter titled, "Recognition of Foreign Animal Disease" in Equine Infectious Diseases, "... a veterinarian can become 'famous' in two ways when a foreign animal disease enters the neighborhood. One way is to diagnose it; the other is to miss it."a

    aUsed with permission from Sellon DC, Long MT. Equine Infectious Diseases. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

    NEXT: Evaluating Polymerase Chain Reaction-Based Tests for Infectious Pathogens