In January 2019 there have been several confirmed outbreaks of equine influenza (EI) across Europe. Three separate outbreaks of equine flu have been confirmed in the UK, in Essex, Cheshire and Derbyshire.
Richard Newton, director of epidemiology and disease surveillance at the Animal Health Trust said: “To put the numbers in context the UK saw three outbreaks throughout 2018 and we have seen three in a week in 2019.”
Check for symptoms
Owners have been advised to seek veterinary advice if they suspect there is flu on the yard.
Symptoms of EI include running a high temperature for several days, clear discharge from the nose and eyes, a dry harsh cough, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes (glands).
EI is rarely fatal but it is highly contagious and can disrupt training and competition schedules.
High risk of exposure
Transmission of EI is by contact with the virus, either by infected horses via the air or by mechanical transmission via clothes, tack, tools etc. Signs of infection exhibit as quickly as two days after initial exposure, and horses remain infectious for up to 10 days following symptoms.
As with many such infections, risk factors include concurrent injury or illness, including cushings disease and dust allergies. Younger and older animals are also particularly vulnerable to infection.
Even if your horse or pony never leaves the yard, there is still risk of exposure especially if any other animals on the yard compete or hack out.
Treatment and vaccination
Treatment includes medication for the fever and any secondary infections, as well as plenty of rest.
Vaccination for equine influenza is effective in limiting the spread of the virus and decreasing the severity of infection if exposure occurs, so check your horse, pony or donkey is up-to-date with equine influenza vaccinations.
Vaccines may be administered in the face of an outbreak, but it is important that the horse is clinically well when vaccinated.