Equine Influenza FAQs

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FAQS

What is equine influenza?

Equine influenza (EI) is an acute, highly contagious viral disease which can cause rapidly spreading outbreaks of respiratory disease in horses and other equine species such as donkeys.

What are the signs of equine influenza?

The main clinical signs of EI in horses and donkeys are usually a sudden increase in temperature to between 39 and 41 degrees Celsius, a watery nasal discharge that may become cloudy or coloured and a deep, dry, hacking cough. Other signs can include depression, loss of appetite, laboured breathing, muscle pain and muscle stiffness.

What should I do if I suspect my horse has signs of equine influenza?

Contact the Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888. Do not allow your horse, or anyone in contact with the horse, to move to anywhere that other horses may be present.

Lots of horses get snotty noses at this time of the year, how can you be sure it’s not the flu?

You cannot be sure without laboratory testing. Horses with EI typically have an increased temperature; a temperature over 38.5 degrees is not something to ignore and should be reported to your local veterinary surgeon.

Who pays for testing horses?

If horses with flu symptoms are reported to PIRSA and we think further investigation is warranted, PIRSA will pay the costs involved with testing.

Is equine influenza fatal to horses?

It is rarely fatal, but affected horses, especially performance horses, can take weeks to recover.

Will foals die if they get equine influenza?

In unusual circumstances it can cause deaths in foals, in very old animals or those already sick with other conditions.

Are donkeys affected by horse flu?

Yes, they are members of the horse family.

Do horses and donkeys recover from equine influenza?

EI is not a permanent disease and affected animals will generally recover and no longer be infective. This may take several weeks and so infected properties are quarantined for 30 days after the last sign of infection.

Is there any treatment for infected horses?

Just like human flu, there are no specific treatments, though veterinary treatment may lessen the severity.

What will happen if my horse is infected?

All infected properties are being placed in quarantine to ensure that the affected animals do not move and the disease does not spread. Quarantines will be maintained until at least 30 days after the last signs were seen in affected horses.

Are infected horses killed?

Horses are not killed. Infected horses or donkeys are quarantined in order to prevent spread of the disease.

How is equine influenza spread?

Usually it is spread by direct contact between horses, which is why we are restricting horse gatherings. There is evidence that the disease has been spread in Australia by contaminated humans, vehicles, bedding and feed material.

Do carrier animals exist?

No. Once an animal has recovered and a sufficient time (30 days) has elapsed they pose no risk to other horses.

Can humans spread equine influenza?

They can but only as physical carriers e.g. virus can be spread on contaminated clothing, skin or equipment. Humans do not get infected but the virus can survive in the nose for a couple of days and is a source of spread.

Can equine influenza be contagious to humans?

Humans have not been infected during outbreaks of EI in horses.

Is equine influenza common in Australia?

EI is an exotic disease that until this outbreak has not been present in Australia. It is because we do not have EI present that we are trying to stop the disease spreading.

Why is controlling the equine influenza outbreak important?

EI would have a major impact on livestock health and on the horse industry if it were to become established in the horse population. All horses will be permanently at risk of infection with subsequent impacts on competitive and domestic activities.

What can I do to protect my horses from equine influenza?

The main thing to do is not to allow your horse, or people who handle your horse, to contact any other horses at this time. You should not use other horse owners’ floats or trailers. You should make sure any feed or bedding you purchase comes from clean sources with no suspicion of infected horses being present, and is transported in vehicles which have not had contact with other horses and have been thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated with detergent or disinfectant.

If the virus can live in water for up to 18 days and the flu is in NSW, what is the risk of the flu reaching SA via the Murray River?

In the river itself, the dilution factor is enormous, so the risk of contracting the virus directly from the Murray River is negligible. The virus survives best in stationary water with organic matter (eg mucus) to protect it. It could survive in water from an infected property in a small container. Many horse owners take their own water with them when traveling; it’s within these smaller containers (ie, 60-80 litres) that the virus can survive.

Who is paying for the control activity?

All emergency animal diseases, such as equine influenza, are cost-shared under existing agreements between government and the relevant industries.

What’s the latest on the use of vaccines?

Buffer zones and ring vaccination will be used to contain areas of high concentrations of equine influenza in NSW and Queensland. Vaccinations are also being used in Victoria to protect high-value horses.

Vaccines

Vaccination will be used to create a protective buffer around areas where equine influenza infection is concentrated, in infected areas and to protect some high-value horses.

The decision to commence vaccinations was endorsed by NMG on Monday, 17 September. This decision follows NMG consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination in this outbreak of equine influenza.

As the situation changes, CCEAD and NMG will review the vaccination program to make sure that it is still the most effective way that vaccine can be used to limit the spread of the disease and protect all horses in Australia.

The aim of the current vaccination program is to help stop rapid spread of the disease. It is not a ‘quick fix’ nor will it mean immediate eradication. Vaccinated horses can still get a mild case of equine flu and may still spread the disease. For this reason movement restrictions and good hygiene and biosecurity must still be adhered to even when horses appear well or have been vaccinated.

Vaccinations are being undertaken to help reduce the amount of virus and its spread.

Each horse must have three vaccinations. The first two doses of the vaccine are given two to six weeks apart. There is some protection about 14 days after the first dose. The second dose helps to boost protection. A third dose is given five months later. After this dose the vaccine may provide protection for up to one year.

Horses receiving vaccinations must be registered with the relevant State Department of Primary industry. Horses will be microchipped for identification when they are vaccinated.

Advantages

  • Vaccination can prevent/mitigate clinical disease in at-risk horses, reduce the risk of stallion infertility and prevent the death of very young/old horses.
  • Vaccination may reduce the level of viral shedding if horses become infected.
  • Vaccination of mares in late pregnancy stimulates the production of maternal antibody and facilitates transfer of passive immunity to new born foals via colostrum.
  • Vaccination can reduce farm-to-farm spread of infection.
  • Apart from horse movements to New Zealand, there are unlikely to be any international implications of vaccinating.

Disadvantages

  • Vaccination may mask clinical signs so vaccinated horses will need to be identified and monitored for evidence of infection if vaccinated as part of an EI eradication program.
  • Reliable, internationally recognised tests to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals for EI are not yet available.
  • The movement of sub-clinically infected vaccinated horses may spread infection to previously unaffected areas.
  • Vaccination may prolong the need for movement restrictions because it may slow the transmission and spread of infection within areas.
  • Vaccinating selected regions will lead to the country being separated into free and vaccinated areas. This will result in differential movement requirements and the need for infrastructure (permits, border controls, etc) to maintain integrity of free areas.
  • Vaccination is not an immediate option, it will take time to import vaccine (permit process), deploy vaccine and train vaccinators, vaccinate the population and for immunity to develop.
  • In the case of the recombinant vaccine there may be restrictions placed on how and who may use the vaccine.
  • Vaccination may affect performance in the short term.
  • Vaccine use is likely to extend the duration of the outbreak and delay ability to declare State or country freedom. Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases 13 September 2007
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3 thoughts on “Equine Influenza FAQs

  1. Pingback: Equine Influenza: Australia | Allied Equine

  2. Thanks for this site. I thought I read that there is a disease that can be transfered from Donkeys to Humans. I have a garden and am using my donkeys manure as fertilizer. My donkey is healthy but I remember reading this and am wondering what the disease was that I read about.
    Thanks for any help you can provide.
    Laurie and Jack (the Donkey)

  3. Pingback: AlliedEquine » Equine Influenza

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