Daily update regarding equine influenza situation

09 Feb 2019 BHA Features Racing/Fixtures Welfare

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA)’s response to the equine influenza situation remains ongoing, in conjunction with the Animal Health Trust (AHT), National Trainers Federation (NTF), numerous individual trainers and the wider racing industry.

The BHA is continuing to follow its process of assessment, analysis and containment of the highly infectious equine influenza virus, ahead of a decision being made on Monday about the programme of upcoming race-meetings.

Latest Information

The AHT has informed the BHA that it has received approximately 2,100 nasal swabs and tested and reported on 720. So far, other than the six at the yard of Donald McCain already identified, there have been no further positive samples returned.

This includes the swabs taken from horses at the yard of Rebecca Menzies. One horse – which tested negative – had previously been identified as suspicious and high risk after testing at a different laboratory. All these horses will remain under close surveillance, analysis of tests from the yard is ongoing and testing of the suspicious horses will be repeated.

Wider analysis is continuing with thousands more swabs expected to be received and tested over the coming days.

The BHA’s Director of Equine Health and Welfare, David Sykes, said;

“We are very grateful to all those trainers whose horses may have come into contact with those from the infected yard for working so rapidly with us and the Animal Health Trust to test their horses.

“There are many more tests to analyse and the nature of the incubation period means that a negative test now does not mean that horse has never had this flu virus. So these yards continue to remain locked down and their horses kept under observation.

“Though hundreds of tests have been completed already, there are many hundreds more to be analysed over the weekend before we will have a fuller picture. The nature of disease control means that if a positive did emerge elsewhere, that could lead to more yards being locked down.

“I would advise against anyone drawing any conclusions or making any predictions based on this set of results. Our focus remains on containing the virus through the strict adherence to   biosecurity measures we are seeing across the industry”

Responding to an equine influenza outbreak

The objective of the decision to suspend racing was to control the outbreak and ensure that racing can safely recommence as soon as possible. There is still more testing to carry out in the coming 48 hours before it is possible to say whether or not the spread has been contained. Even then, horses in those yards will continue to be closely observed. The initial incubation period for the disease may not have passed for many of the potentially exposed.

Equine influenza is a highly infectious disease of horses and is different from a common ‘bug’ that might impact some yards from time to time. Racing’s key priority is the welfare of our horses at all times, but there are three key reasons that lay behind the decision to respond as the industry has;

  • It is the most potentially damaging of the respiratory viruses that occur in UK equines and disease symptoms in non–immune animals include high fever, coughing and nasal discharge.
  • It can be particularly serious for younger horses, which is of particular concern with the breeding season about to start.
  • The industry goes to great lengths and expense to vaccinate our population and impose controls to attempt to prevent the disease from affecting our horses. Running a sick horse is not good for its welfare.

The decision to suspend racing was made on expert scientific advice and agreed unanimously by the sport’s cross-industry veterinary committee and supported by the Animal Health Trust, National Trainers Federation and UK Government.

The BHA’s Veterinary Committee issued a statement today which said;

The results we have seen so far suggest that the actions taken by the BHA have helped prevent the possible further spread of this highly infectious virus.”

(Full statement below)

Confirmation has also been received that the strain of the virus is the “Florida Clade 1” strain, which is endemic to North and South America, and is different from Clade 2 strain that is endemic to Europe. British horses are vaccinated against both Clade 1 and Clade 2, but this is clearly more virulent than the European strain and therefore able to affect vaccinated horses, though the vaccine will provide some protection. The Animal Health Trust provides more detailed information: https://www.aht.org.uk/disease-surveillance/equiflunet/equine-influenza-vaccines.

5,000 swabs have been dispatched around the country to facilitate further testing and the BHA’s team of Equine Welfare Integrity Officers are assisting in the delivery and collection of samples.

174 licensed yards that had runners of fixtures at Wolverhampton, Newcastle, Ayr and Ludlow last week remain on hold while testing continues, with movement of people and horses restricted and biosecurity measures in place.

Impact on the race programme

The BHA’s veterinary and race-planning teams are already planning for a variety of scenarios under which racing may recommence. This includes options for rescheduling meetings and races that have been cancelled. We are planning as normal for the Cheltenham Festival.

The BHA’s Chief Regulatory Officer, Brant Dunshea said;

“We are acutely aware of the short-term impact of the decision to suspend racing. The BHA remains grateful for the assistance and the sensible precautions being taken by trainers and the patience shown by our racecourses and all those involved in the industry.

“The continued adherence to controls on the movement or horses and people and to strict biosecurity measures will protect the health of our horses and allow racing to return as soon as possible.”

Veterinary Committee Statement

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA)’s Veterinary Committee advises on all veterinary matters affecting racing and the health and welfare of racehorses. It contains representatives of the BHA, Association of Racecourse Veterinary Surgeons (ARVS), British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), National Trainers Federation (NTF), Racehorse Owners Association (ROA), Animal Health Trust (AHT), Thoroughbred Breeders Association (TBA), Racecourse Association (RCA) and Independent expertise.

The Veterinary Committee today issued the following statement:

“The Veterinary Committee has provided advice to the BHA throughout this Equine Influenza outbreak and has unanimously endorsed the initial precautionary decision to cease racing on Thursday 7 February, and then the further decision to cease racing through until, at the earliest Wednesday 13 February. By then, significant results from laboratory testing of contacts will be available’.

“The results we have seen so far suggest that the actions taken by the BHA have helped prevent the possible further spread of this highly infectious virus. The Committee is conscious that the sport is doing all that it can, with vaccination and biosecurity measures, to control this outbreak and in order to safeguard the health and welfare of the horse population and to ensure that it causes the least amount of disruption to the industry as possible.

“The Committee are continuing to meet on a daily basis to reassess the situation and provide advice to the BHA.”

Membership of the Veterinary Committee:

David Sykes (C) – BHA
Alasdair Topp – Association of Racecourse Veterinary Surgeons
Amanda Piggot – BHA
Antony Clements – British Equine Veterinary Association
Clive Hamblin – NTF
Charlie Pinkham – ROA
Dr Richard Newton – Animal Health Trust
James Wigan – Independent
Prof Sidney Ricketts – TBA
Simon Knapp – RCA