Educating horse owners in the Vail valley about Equine Infectious Anemia
In recent weeks, we have heard about an outbreak of a disease in horses called “Equine Infectious Anemia, in Southwest Kansas, all too close to Colorado!
” As a veterinarian here in the Vail Valley, I find that our pets , both large and small, are not nearly as exposed to many of the life threatening diseases as they are in other parts of the country, and the world, due to our altitude, our climate (short summers and long winters), as well as our population and life cycle of insects, which are often the carriers of disease so this outbreak is obviously a reason for concern.
This however, is a disease that could easily impact us, due to the nature of the horse world, with many locals traveling to rodeos, horse shows and even the race track and I feel it is imperative to educate local horse owners before they unnessarily expose their horses to this disease.
Once or twice a year, depending upon the type of horse and competition that horse may be involved in, veterinarians perform a blood test called a “coggins test.” I will attest that most of the time, horse owners actually do not understand what a “coggins test” actually tests for!
“EIA” also known as “Equine Infectious Anemia” is a virus which affects horses and donkeys. This virus can be detected through a blood draw which is called the “coggins test.”
This disease can present in your horse in an “acute” , “subacute” or “chronic “ form.
Known as “swamp fever,” to horseowners, the virus is carried by blood sucking insects, and is endemic in some part of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, The Far East, and South Africa, but certainly is not common in the Western United States. The disease can travel as far as 200 yards, and can live up to 4 hours in it’s carrier. It can be transmitted by contaminated surgical equipment, biting flies such as the horse fly and deer fly, in addition to recycled needles, syringes and bits. Mares can even transmit the disease thru the placenta to a foal.
Signs of the disease in the “acute” phase, are high fever, anemia(found thru checking the blood), weakness, and swelling of the lower abdomen and legs, a weak pulse and irregular heart beat.
In the “sub acute” phase, we also see a recurrent fever, weight loss, enlarged spleen found thru rectal palpation, anemia, swelling of the sheath, abdomen and legs.
In the “chronic” phase of the disease, horses can’t walk, have recurrent fevers, and are anemic.
Many horses can show no signs at all, and then come up positive on a coggins test.
Because this disease can be deadly and has no cure (horses are carriers for life) it is what we call a “reportable disease” and therefore anytime there is a positive “coggins” test, we must alert government veterinarians, and those horses must be quarantined from all other horses for the rest of their lives. Many folks end up euthanizing their horses, when quarantine is simply impossible or unaffordable.
How do you prevent the disease? By using a high quality fly spray, putting fly sheets on your horses, keeping manure piles to a minimum, and spraying the surrounding areas for insects. More importantly, knowing where the outbreaks exist and not taking your horses to those areas until the outbreak is well under control!
Be smart, and be preventative.