Deadly skin trade may have prompted Nigeria’s Equine Influenza outbreak

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An African donkey showing signs of dullness and inappetence.
An African donkey showing signs of dullness and inappetence. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Nigeria has declared an outbreak of Equine Influenza with more than 3000 equines infected, with reports from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) suggesting the outbreak is a symptom of the unregulated global movement and trading of donkeys for their skins.

International animal welfare charity The Donkey Sanctuary has warned of a potential disease epidemic in West Africa, following reports from partners in neighbouring countries Mali and Ghana of donkeys showing similar characteristics of the disease, including fever and nasal discharge. The highly contagious disease can affect all equines.

The current outbreak in Britain and previous outbreaks in Australia and China have proven to have costly consequences to the equine populations, putting at risk not just working equines but domestic and competing animals, too.

As a member of the OIE’s consultative group International Coalition for Working Equids, The Donkey Sanctuary is taking steps to alert at-risk countries of the threats of an equine influenza epidemic and to offer support to governments and donkey-owning communities to help with the situation, including distributing critical information to communities on how to prevent further spread of the disease.

At the same time, the charity is imploring the at-risk countries to immediately prohibit movement of donkeys along trade routes and to tackle illegal movements.

With regards to the wider trading of donkeys for their skins, The Donkey Sanctuary believes the biosecurity threats and risk of disease spread are also heightened in such an unregulated and global trade – both in live animals and skin products. It believes the trade must halt until there is evidence to demonstrate that the trade is humane, sustainable and free from the risk of the spread of disease.

The influenza virus viewed under an electron microscope. Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The influenza virus viewed under an electron microscope. © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Equine influenza is caused by a group of viruses known as the myxoviruses, of which there are at least four sub-types. It is a highly contagious disease which is characterised by fever and nasal discharge with varying degrees of dullness and inappetence. The virus will also cause some inflammation of the heart and liver, so any strenuous exercise or stress should be avoided during the illness and for about a month afterwards.

It is possible to vaccinate against the commonly occurring strains of this virus, vaccination helps to reduce the likelihood of transmission of the disease and the severity of the disease in vaccinated individuals.

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