The Animal Health Trust (AHT) head of epidemiology and disease surveillance, Dr Richard Newton says that Equine veterinary practitioners are critical to effective equine influenza virus (EIV) surveillance: “Our member practices don’t just benefit directly from free diagnosis of all samples, they also facilitate access to and further investigation of viruses and outbreaks,” explains Dr Newton.
The AHT and Merial Animal Health have joined forces to create the EFAM initiative with the aim of raising awareness, understanding and virus surveillance of this highly contagious evolving disease. “With 23 confirmed outbreaks in 2015, we are urging all practitioners to be on the lookout for the classic influenza signs,” says Dr Newton.
“These include a harsh dry cough, nasal discharge, pyrexia and inappetance, especially in horses that have recently been transported. This may also include some vaccinated horses where signs are likely to be mild.
“The Equine Influenza Surveillance Scheme at the AHT is funded by The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) and enables us to provide ongoing free sampling to all practices registered to the service. We can also support member practices with disease outbreak Twitter updates @equiflunet, text alerts, and horse owner education to increase awareness of flu surveillance and vaccination,” he adds.
One such practice that signed up to the scheme approximately three years ago is Yorkshire based, Clevedale Vets, and Alistair Love BVSc Cert AVP(EP) MRCVS, believes the scheme has allowed them to test horses that otherwise they might not have been able to. “The free service means that we can sample horses where otherwise the client may be unable or unwilling to pay,” explains Alistair.
“Since starting the scheme we have been able to significantly increase the number of samples we send for analysis, as well as confirming diagnosis on cases that may otherwise not have been identified. It is a good basis for treatment, helps us to inform other clients in the area, and reduces the impact on any unvaccinated horses,” says Alistair.
“The scheme also facilitates the AHT to record circulating strains which can only help the wider equine population with monitoring, alerts, and ultimately vaccine update recommendations,” he adds.
Dr Newton agrees and adds that the information recorded is used by the OIE Expert Surveillance Panel to make its recommendations on vaccine strain updates. “All isolated viruses in the most recent outbreaks are known to be of the Florida Clade 2 sublineage of H3N8 equine influenza virus, and nearly all were in unvaccinated horses or in those whose vaccinations were not up to date¹.”
Practices can register to send in samples for free diagnosis, and will receive equine flu swabbing kits and blood tubes for taking paired blood samples. Analysis of all samples received will be included in the annual survey of UK strains carried out by the AHT. To sign up to the free HBLB Equine Influenza Surveillance Scheme run by the AHT go to www.equiflunet.org.uk of flu
For more information or to learn more about Equine Flu Awareness Month visit www.equinefluawareness.com The website also includes videos and links to the Equine Influenza Surveillance Programme.