Horses, like humans, suffer from a variety of viruses, for which time and rest are often more effective remedies than allopathic medication. Viruses are notoriously difficult to treat. They differ from other pathogens in that they go inside the host body's cells and use those cells to produce thousands more viruses. They are ten to one thousand times smaller than bacteria, yet the virulent strains may prove more deadly than any bacterial infection.
Synthetic viricides are expensive to manufacture an often have serious side effects because of the problem in finding drugs that will inhibit the virus and not damage the host's cells. The severity of a viral attack and the speed of recovery will depend on the state of the immune system. Complementary medicine can play a key role both in prevention and treatment.
Tests conducted under laboratory conditions have proved conclusively that many essential oils and aqueous solutions distilled from plants do have viricidal properties. One researcher, D. Peneol, believes that this may be due to high levels of 1.8 cineol found in many of these essential oils. This compound exists in eucalyptus, tea tree, spike lavender, bay, laurel, rosemary, and Spanish sage. Due to the tendency of cineol to irritate the mucous membranes and skin, the percentages used for topical application have to be low (i.e., below 2%).
Other effective viricides, such as cinnamon, clove and thyme, are also skin sensitizers. Cypress, juniper and melissa are probably the most benign of the oils containing anti-viral properties.
Catherine Bird is the author of A Healthy Horse the Natural Way (New Holland Publishers, UK and Australia; Lyons Press, USA). In her clinical practice in Sydney, Australia, as an equine therapist, she focuses on natural health care for horses; from the companion horse to the international competitor to Olympic and Paralympic level, Thoroughbreds from foals through track racing, the NSW Mounted Police horses, as well as horses competing in dressage, jumping, eventing, endurance, and pony club. Catherine regularly contributes to and is profiled in equestrian and general publications worldwide as well as on radio and television. She teaches face-to-face in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and United States, and by correspondence elsewhere, www.happyhorses.com.au