The Animal Health Trust (AHT) and Merial Animal Health have joined forces to create the initiative. The AHT’s head of epidemiology and disease surveillance, Dr Richard Newton, believes that the campaign is a significant step in the battle against equine flu: “The creation of Equine Flu Awareness Month is an important step forward for the equine industry. There have been 52 recorded outbreaks of equine influenza in the last two years, and whilst this may sound considerable, we believe it’s actually just the tip of the iceberg,” he says.
Equine Flu Awareness Month will integrate the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) Equine Influenza Surveillance Programme at the AHT with disease outbreak alerts and horse owner education to increase awareness of flu surveillance and vaccination. “The surveillance programme provides ongoing free sampling to all practices registered to the service.
“We are fortunate that the HBLB invests in this important scheme which also benefits the industry as a whole. We know that just 40% of the total UK herd is vaccinated, so when you consider that all racehorses and many other competing and performance horses are vaccinated under compulsory rules, that leaves the remainder of the herd even less protected and the total percentage well short of the 70% required in order to prevent an epidemic¹,²,” he adds.
“All isolated viruses in the recent outbreaks are known to be of the Florida Clade 2 sublineage of H3N8 equine influenza, and nearly all outbreaks were in unvaccinated horses or in those whose vaccinations were not up to date³.
“Historical models indicate that an epidemic occurs every 10 to 15 years⁴. The last large outbreak in the UK, which affected vaccinated racehorses, occurred in 2003, so surveillance of virus activity, vaccination and development of vaccines to match the circulating strains are key to preventing another outbreak,” explains Dr Newton.
“Many horses that don’t travel are still at risk of equine influenza, but frequently go unvaccinated. These animals are not only at risk of contracting and amplifying virus from their stable-mates that do travel, but are also at risk of airborne infection as equine flu is capable of travelling over a mile as an aerosol on the wind,” he concludes.
The EFAM campaign will include a focus on practice vaccine amnesties and practice promotional tools with the objective to increase awareness among horse owners, for them to better understand the risks and signs of equine flu, says Louise Radford MRCVS of Merial.
In addition to the HBLB funded surveillance scheme providing free registration and virus testing, other services include Tell-Tail™ alerts for practices when there is an outbreak in the region, and Tell-Tail™ links to alert clients to outbreaks of equine flu and encourage them to vaccinate, she adds. “Tell-Tail™ Links is a great way to let your clients know when there is an increased risk of equine flu due to an outbreak in the area.
“When the first broadcast was launched, a text was sent from a practice in Cardiff to 777 horse owners and within 2 weeks, 47 new horses were booked in for a primary vaccination course,” adds Louise.
For more information on Equine Flu Awareness Month visit www.equinefluawareness.com