Biosecurity in the horse industry can be a difficult concept to comprehend and put into practice, especially when the average horse frequently travels off property or encounters horses that have been off the farm. Lack of infection control procedures can leave a barn vulnerable to all kinds of diseases.
Important prevention steps include:
- considerations when moving horses around
- testing horses when they become sick
According to University of Guelph researcher and author of the “Worms and Germs” blog, Dr. Scott Weese, “having a basic infection control plan in place is probably the biggest thing someone can do to reduce the risk of disease.” Dr. Weese has been working in the area of biosecurity and infection control for more than 15 years trying to find better ways to prevent and treat infectious diseases with a strong emphasis on prevention.
Weese stresses, “It does not matter what you do with your horse(s), or whether you have only one horse or a herd of 100, as an owner you should have a general idea of the measures you are going to take in order to reduce the risk of infection.”
Weese and Dr. Maureen Anderson of the Ontario Veterinary College's Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses have been tracking diseases and infections all over the world. For the last three years they have been posting helpful information for horse and pet owners via the “Worms and Germs Blog.”
Keeping tabs on emerging diseases in the area is important when discussing the timing and relevance of a vaccination program with your veterinarian. While this will help ensure the program is a good fit for the needs of your horse, Weese cautions that vaccination should not be the only biosecurity practice in which horse owners engage.
LOWER THE RISKS
Any time a horse goes off the farm and encounters other horses, it has a chance of contracting an infectious disease. A few ways to lower those risks include:
- avoid nose to nose contact
- do not share water buckets or grooming equipment
- avoid allowing people who are handling other horses to handle your horses
Ideally, a horse who leaves the farm and is exposed to other horses should come home to a quarantine protocol to reduce the chances of spreading infections to the entire herd. Although this is not always possible, consideration should be given to keeping the housing separate for horses who travel frequently, especially if you also keep horses at greater risk of infection such as broodmares or foals.
Zinc May Decrease Risk of EHM
Equine herpes virus type 1 (EHV-1) is one of the most significant diseases concerning the horse industry today. Recent outbreaks of EHV-1 have many farms in a heightened state of biosecurity.
A recent study found potential epidemiologic factors associated with the development of the neurologic form of EHV-1, known as equine herpes virus myeloencephalopathy (EHM).
In some horses, and no one understands why, an EHV-1 infection can become the neurologic form. A mutated form of the virus gets into the spinal fluid and causes a myeloencephalopathy – a severe viral brain and spinal fluid infection. This infection is what causes the horses to become suddenly neurologic.
None of the currently available vaccines are licensed to protect against neurological herpes and it’s been suggested that frequent vaccination with killed virus vaccine may increase the risk.
One positive factor researchers found was that when comparing neurologic (EHM) horses with controls (healthy horses), “feeding a nutritional supplement containing zinc was associated with decreased risk” of a horse becoming a neurologic case.
The idea is to help boost the horse’s natural immune system, therefore making it easier for the horse to fight the virus naturally.
To learn more about protecting your horse from infectious disease, check out Equine Guelph's horse owner tool: the Biosecurity Risk Calculator at EquineGuelph.ca/Tools/biosecurity_2011.php . Find Equine Guelph's Biosecurity eWorkshops (next offering is Oct 21-Nov 3) at EquineGuelph.ca/education/eworkshops.php . Dr. Weese was the first speaker at the launch of Equine Guelph’s “Beat the Bugs” biosecurity workshops and says, “These workshops are great for getting people thinking in a broader context when it comes to infection control and putting into practice the easy day-to-day steps which can reduce outbreaks of disease.”