Since 22nd September, when laboratory tests detected the presence of Bluetongue Virus in cattle in Suffolk, a number of press reports have appeared with differing implications as to its possible impact on the equine industry. Bluetongue Virus does not affect horses, but it is transmitted by similar species of midge (Culicoides) to those which could spread African Horse Sickness. However, African Horse Sickness has so far been restricted mainly to Africa, with no reported cases in Europe since 1990.
In order to ensure that the racing industry remains fully informed, vets at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) have been in discussion with infectious disease experts at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket. A number of important points were clarified by these discussions and are outlined below:
• At present, there are no known cases of African Horse Sickness in the UK, or indeed in Europe
• Neither are there any known cases in the UK of other exotic diseases of current concern, such as West Nile and Equine Infectious Anaemia
• There is no reason why the detection of Bluetongue Virus in the UK should have any effect on the racing industry
• However, it does serves as a timely reminder that, as an industry, we must remain vigilant. This has already been highlighted by The Horse Trust Working Party on African Horse Sickness
• It is therefore vital that industry-wide contingency plans are developed as a matter of urgency
The BHA and AHT are working together to gather the information required to institute contingency plans for all of these exotic diseases, with African Horse Sickness the first to be addressed. This is likely to involve consultation with veterinary surgeons and scientists in South Africa who have considerable experience of the diagnosis, control and management of African Horse Sickness. The International Agri-Technology Centre (IATC), a government sponsored body based at Stoneleigh, has been working with the South African Equine Industry for some time and has agreed to organise a study tour for the purpose of fostering collaboration and an exchange of information. Ultimately, it is their intention to implement a regionally based training initiative including a series of workshops and provision of practical advice.
The effects of infectious diseases, whether they directly involve horses or not, have been only too clear in recent years. The industry has had to react to Foot and Mouth Disease, Equine Influenza, Equine Infectious Anaemia and Blue Tongue Virus to minimise national and international repercussions. It is crucial that it now heeds the warnings and, through global surveillance and collaborations, puts itself in a position to be able to deal rapidly and effectively with future outbreaks.