Mathematical modelling a handy weapon against equine flu

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flu-featMathematics may not be a cure for equine influenza, but it can help bring horse flu cases under control faster and provide guidance to help protect horses more effectively.

Dr Janet Daly, a virologist from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science in Britain, is the lead author on a state-of-the-art review looking at how mathematical modelling can help in the control of equine flu.

The review has been published in the Equine Veterinary Journal. It confirms that vaccination reduces the occurrence and limits the extent of outbreaks, but also that vaccines could be administered more strategically and should contain currently circulating strains of virus.

Like humans, horses can suffer badly when struck down by the flu. Although equine influenza is rarely fatal, it is highly contagious and can seriously disrupt training and competition schedules and result in huge revenue losses for the equine industry.

Protection afforded by equine flu vaccines is not as straightforward as many think. The flu virus has an ability to mutate, making older vaccines less effective. None of the vaccines currently on sale in Britain have the most recently recommended strains, and only one vaccine in the United States achieves this.

“This study will help further our understanding of how to better protect horses against the effects of equine influenza,”  Daly said.

“Mathematical modellers have to make some assumptions in developing models, but models are informed by and tested against real data … Their models challenge me to think differently about the disease.”

Her review, entitled “What can mathematical models bring to the control of equine influenza?”, collates the findings from numerous studies over the past 10 years in which mathematical models were used to project how influenza outbreaks were likely to progress in different circumstances.

Her review illustrates how this technique can be used to help inform decision-making on prevention and outbreak management.

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