‘Swamp fever’ hits Manitoba horses

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An equine viral disease once known as “swamp fever” has resurfaced in Manitoba and horse owners are scrambling to get their animals tested.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/07/2017 (1861 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An equine viral disease once known as “swamp fever” has resurfaced in Manitoba and horse owners are scrambling to get their animals tested.

Equine infectious anemia has returned to Manitoba — several horses with the disease were recently discovered in the RM of St. Clements, northeast of Winnipeg, along with one case in the RM of Armstrong in the Interlake.

Most cases of the viral disease have been found in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia in the past two decades.

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES The majority of horses carrying the virus are undiagnosed.

There is no cure.

“The sad thing is that a horse can be infected and the horse can look fine but ultimately it’s a death sentence,” said John Savard, executive director of the Manitoba Horse Council.

A horse found to have the disease must either be quarantined or put down, with the latter being a more foolproof way of preventing the disease’s spread.

“You can’t just have a horse and put it in solitary confinement for the rest of its life,” Savard said.

“The only solution is putting it down and that’s an absolute heartbreaker.”

The disease is caused by a virus that produces symptoms in horses and donkeys such as weight loss, bleeding and swelling of the legs and chest, jaundice, miscarriage and colic, although horses may not show any symptoms.

The majority of horses carrying the virus are undiagnosed.

“It’s a virus that mutates so it’s doubtful they’ll ever find a vaccine that solves the problem,” Savard said.

The virus is spread through the blood by horse and deer flies but is not a danger to humans.

A mosquito does not draw enough blood to spread the virus.

“It looks to be isolated at this time,” said Dr. Chris Bell, a veterinarian with the Elder Equine Veterinary Service.

“As we get more test results we may find more infested than this group,” Bell said.

Bell expects more cases but not an outbreak where hundreds of horses have to be put down, although there is always that potential if precautions aren’t taken.

Veterinarians such as Bell are being kept very busy visiting farms and administering a blood test called the Coggins test, which detects antibodies to the disease.

It takes about 12 hours to detect in the blood and costs $50 to $100.

Veterinarians visit horse farms and the blood samples are sent to a laboratory.

Testing is not mandatory but is already in place for major horse shows such as the Manitoba Horse Council Equestrian Centre in Birds Hill Provincial Park, which has nearly 20 shows a year.

Areas of horse traffic like rodeos and public barns are at greatest risk for exposure.

The Western College of Veterinary Medicine recommends screening all horses for the infection at least once every spring before fly season begins.

Horses should also be tested before purchasing.

If your horse frequently travels to shows or other high equine traffic areas where negative test certificates are not required, consider additional testing twice a year.

The virus can be spread in blood-contaminated objects such as needles or surgical tools used on more than one animal. It can also be transmitted via semen from an infected stallion.

Manitoba had the first recorded case in Canada in 1881 when it went by the name “swamp fever.”

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Saturday, July 8, 2017 7:59 AM CDT: Photo added.

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