British impact of African Horse Sickness to be explored

July 15, 2009

Researchers in Britain have started to explore the potential economic and social impact of control measures that will be needed to control an outbreak of African Horse Sickness.

A team from University of Reading began the work this week amid growing concern over the potential for the deadly horse disease to reach British shores.

Climate change is thought to be behind its gradual spread north out of Africa and the closely related Bluetongue virus, which affects cattle and sheep, is already present in Britain.

The research has been commissioned by the government and the African Horse Sickness Working Group, which was founded and is led by Buckinghamshire charity The Horse Trust.

African Horse Sickness is a highly fatal and infectious disease, which affects horses, mules and donkeys.

It is transmitted via Culicoides midges, also responsible for carrying the Bluetongue virus. African Horse Sickness kills 90 per cent of the horses it infects and is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

The research project, which will be led by Keith Allison, has been given £9000 to carry out the research. The results form part of a government control strategy document defining how an outbreak would be managed.

Over the next two months, researchers will be approaching the horse-owning public and industry for information.

The evidence produced will be used to help fight for additional funding towards the development and production of an effective vaccine against the disease. There is currently no vaccine available suitable for use in Britain.

It will also be used to justify the need to make changes to the European Union (EU) Directive and Control Strategy.

Under current EU directives, all equestrian activity would be prohibited as the transport of horses would effectively be banned. The social impact of the emergence of African Horse Sickness in Britain is likely to be difficult to quantify.

It is anticipated that the economic impact of African Horse Sickness on Britain's £4 billion horse industry would be enormous.