Equine Flu- Separating fact from fiction

Only ONE yard of nearly 100 in Newmarket has a case
Credit : Lulu Kyriacou

Monday 11 February - 16h32 | Lulu Kyriacou/Anon.

Equine Flu- Separating fact from fiction

Cases of equine flu have been registered in Europe at an increasing rate for several months but since the virus reared its ugly head in the UK last week, any amount of complete nonsense has been spinning round the internet. Even reputable broadcasters like Sky, seem to be unable to either find, or stick to the facts, so here are some!

Social Media at its best and its worst!

In any crisis situation, you can always rely on social media to get many things wrong and whip readers into a frenzy.  However one post about equine flu is being shared by so many, that is has been impossible to establish who precisely wrote the original post, but on this occasion they should be thanked.

​This particular post lists a some facts, in plain English, that everyone who has horses should be aware of. We have reprinted it below as it is such good advice and would be very pleased if the writer would come forward to be credited.

The Best Flu Advice on Social Media
"1. Equine Influenza is endemic in Europe (and most of the rest of the world!). This means that infection is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs. So we always have it somewhere!
2. Equine influenza, like other influenza viruses, undergoes continuous antigenic change, so vaccines also need to change, hence regular boosters with the LATEST vaccine. Vaccinated horses (and horses previously infected) can still become infected and shed the virus because of this antigenic change. Although symptoms may be less severe than in naive or unvaccinated horses.
3. The incubation period is very short, 1-3 days. It is airborne so in theory could blow in on the wind but transmission occurs by inhalation of respiratory secretions, most commonly via nose-to-nose contact and can spread quickly and easily through a yard.
4. The horse will display flu like symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, snotty nose, lack of appetite etc), in uncomplicated cases this should resolve within a week. Any longer and you can suspect a secondary bacterial infection.
5. Shedding of the virus in nasal secretions begins as soon as 24 hours after infection and shedding can continue for 7 to 10 days in some horses. Horses do not become carriers after this time.
6. You cannot treat equine influenza with antibiotics, it is a virus. Rest, feed, clean water, warmth and time are what’s needed. One week of rest for each day of fever! You can treat any secondary infection with antibiotics if required.
7. Whilst highly contagious the virus can only live outside its host (on surfaces etc) for up to 36 hours. It is vulnerable to heat and cold and also correct disinfectants. Therefore isolation of the infection and restrictions on movement are very effective in containing an outbreak.
8. The disease carries a very low rate of mortality so it is highly unlikely that your horse will die from infection. However, the virus can cause a form of pneumonia which may prove to be fatal in foals or yearlings."

A Few Other Facts
So far, in the UK, INCLUDING RACEHORSES, there have been 14 documented cases.  According to the Animal Health Trust (who do the testing) one has proved fatal  and all the yards concerned have put appropriate measures in place.  These yards include  Millfield School in Somerset and Pinnerwood Equestrian in Middlesex.

​Only TWO racing yards have so far been affected. The original one in Cheshire and one in Newmarket. However, nearly 800 potential contacts of these horses have been swabbed and tested clean.

​The virus concerned is known as Clade 1 and previously  only been found in the Americas. However it is extremely similar to the European Clade 2, which is why a booster against Clade 2 should prove effective in most cases to protect against exposure to the latest virus.

​Racing in the UK will only begin again, once the British Horseracing Authority  and The Animal Heath Trust are sure that the current outbreaks have been contained.

​Hunting and other forms of equestrian activity have not yet been officially curtailed, the decisions at this point are being left to the organisers.

Further reading...