South African horse owners urged to use AHS vaccine

African Horse Sickness is spread by Culicoides species midges.
African Horse Sickness is transmitted by Culicoides species midges.

South African authorities are urging horse owners to vaccinate their animals annually in an effort to curb the impact of African horse sickness.

African horse sickness is a controlled animal disease under the country’s Animal Diseases Act, 1984 and all suspected or confirmed cases must be reported to the nearest state veterinarian.

The disease is transmitted by Culicoides midges and not by direct spread from horse to horse.

Favourable climatic conditions, including summer rainfall, may increase the breeding and spread of the midges. Heavy rains preceded by a prolonged dry spell favour the occurrence of epidemics.

The number of outbreaks decline after the first frost and normally the disease disappears abruptly in May.

Owners are being encouraged by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to vaccinate their animals before the start of the rainy season to limit the impact of the disease.

As an extra measure, it is advisable to stable horses for at least two hours before sunset and keep them stabled for at least two hours after sunrise as this is the period when the midges are most active and known to be feeding.
The midges also colonize around stagnant water sources and efforts should be made to prevent pooling of water and to move animals away from water sources.

All horses in South Africa, except those in the designated free and surveillance zones in the Western Cape, have to be vaccinated annually using a registered vaccine at the cost of the owner. Currently, the vaccine from Onderstepoort Biological Products is the only registered vaccine.

For the 2013 cycle, the reporting season started in September 2012 and will continue to August 2013.

This reporting period is chosen because the disease normally occurs during the summer months; and from December to May in particular. During this season, forty three outbreaks of AHS were reported to date in the following provinces; Eastern Cape 19, Gauteng 9, KwaZulu-Natal 8, Mpumalanga 4 and North West 2.

Agriculture authorities declared an area in the Western Cape as a controlled area and includes a disease-free area to facilitate trade. The current controlled area was adopted in 2001. Horses can be exported directly to the European Union from the AHS free area.

In an effort to protect this area, all movements of horses to the controlled areas are subject to state veterinary movement control, with permits required, to prevent the introduction of the virus into the free zone.


3 thoughts on “South African horse owners urged to use AHS vaccine

  • January 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    There is way more to this story than what meets the eye. Firstly, AHS is hugely under-reported in South Africa, both by horse owners, and by officials who want to underplay the severity of the virus. The Racehorse industry would like very much to keep export gates open, and as OIE are watching the spread of the Virus with growing interest, many cases get swept under the carpet by Racing SA, who privately fund the Equine Reasearch Centre, who test of African Horse sickness as well as the African Horse Sickness Trust – who are supposed to report on the spread of the virus. We run a Facebook group where horse owners discuss AHS, outbreaks, and how to treat sick horses. This season alone, we have followed over 200 cases (both confirmed and unconfirmed) many of which have been fatalities. The Govt (as can be seen by this article) and the AHS Trust are under reporting!

    We also have a huge problem in that the vaccine we are supposedly required to use by law, is outdated (over 50 years old) and is no longer effective in preventing the virus. Many of the sick horses have been correctly vaccinated. A new inactivated virus vaccine has recently become available by a private lab (Disease Control Africa and La Bio Research), but authorities are not keen to endorse it as it offers competition to the Lab which produces the Required live vaccine and which is produced at Onderstepoort Biological Products, a state owned enterprise, with profits which are not insignificant.

    The AHS problem in South Africa, is complex, a political minefield, and horses are dying as people entrusted to assist horse owners drag their feet for reasons mentioned above.

  • December 27, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    I wish to get involved with AHS Trust. I would like to try eradicate THAT SPECIES on hopefully on a site in gauteng.

    Worst case I will radically reduce the stimoxy and house fly population. By now some may already know me and my voracious trapping.

    Question1. What is the medical cost implication on the recovery of a infected horse?

    Question 2. What is the annual cost of efforts to reduce the midge threat on a site?

    Best regards

    Grant Alexander Giliomee

  • December 27, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Here’s the thing. Haven’t heard of a infected horse but hope to find a site that could potentially be a working experiment where there is plenty midges and a budget to work with.

    Best Regards

    Grant Alexander Giliomee
    Johannesburg (South Africa)


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