Britain on red alert for swamp fever
Handlers of racehorses in Britain have been put on red alert to look out for signs of swamp fever – equine infectious anaemia (EIA) after government department Defra confirmed the first outbreak of the disease in England for over 30 years.
Two horses in a batch of nine imported from Romania via Belgium tested positive for the disease on premises in Wiltshire, and have been humanely destroyed on the instructions of Defras chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.
"These were apparently healthy horses carrying a notifiable disease that we are keen to keep out of Britain," Defra’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens told Racing Post.
British Horseracing Authority (BHA) director of equine science and welfare, Tim Morris, said on Tuesday night that Defra had involved racings governing body in their planning and assessment of the first outbreak since 1976.
"The horses involved are not competition or racehorses, or breeding animals, and disease containment controls are on premises not areas," Morris said.
"At present Defra does not think horseracing will be affected, or that the risk of spread is high.
"EIA is spread by biting flies, and that’s unlikely at this time of year and with the current weather.
"Nevertheless, we should not be complacent. The BHA has advised all its veterinary officers and relevant racing stakeholders to be aware of the signs of this disease."
The authority considers that, as horses with the disease are persistently infected, humane destruction of the horses that have been affected is necessary.
The EIA virus causes intermittent fever, anaemia and emaciation, and can result in death.
It can be transmitted by the exchange of blood by biting insects and occurs typically in low-lying swampy areas.
Horses are most likely to become infected when travelling abroad to countries, or areas of countries, where the disease is endemic, or from the use of biological products infected with the EIA virus.