Equine influenza has been identified as the respiratory disease that claimed the lives of nearly 60,000 donkeys in West Africa earlier this year.
Despite the huge number of animals being affected, there was initially no formal diagnosis for the disease. Many countries declared the outbreak to be the common respiratory infection strangles. But veterinarians from international animal charity Spana noticed that the outbreak that swept through Mali and other parts of West Africa this year behaved more like a respiratory virus.
From January until June 2019, Mali suffered a serious outbreak of respiratory disease in donkeys and horses. This outbreak was widespread across West Africa and affected several surrounding countries such as Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Symptoms included high fever, difficulty in breathing and a hard cough, all of which proved highly contagious. Some West African governments announced almost 60,000 donkey deaths resulting from the disease.
At the start of the epidemic, Spana vets in Mali treated thousands of respiratory cases in the Segou region and other locations. Spana provided training to vet professionals on respiratory diseases, how to recognise and manage suspected cases, and on biosecurity measures to help prevent the outbreak from spreading. Thermometers were distributed to animal health technicians to help them monitor suspected cases and meetings were held with the government veterinary department to report findings and disseminate information as quickly as possible.
Samples were then sent to the Animal Health Trust, a UK laboratory, which led to a confirmed diagnosis of Equine Influenza Virus (Equine Flu).
Dr Ben Sturgeon, Director of Veterinary Programmes at Spana, said that after weeks of effort, Spana’s Veterinary Programme Advisor Dr Mathilde Merridale-Punter managed to submit several samples to the Animal Health Trust, which led to the confirmed laboratory diagnosis of equine flu in June.
“We very strongly wanted to achieve a definitive diagnosis of this outbreak to allow veterinary professionals to manage and prevent the spread of it, as well as perform adequate treatment of affected cases,” Sturgeon said.
“These results were the first to be obtained from the outbreak in Mali and are therefore extremely relevant in managing the aftermath of the epidemic, informing the communities, and in devising national and international strategies to prepare professionals for possible similar situations in the future. The hope is this will ensure that working animals and the people who depend on them will be better protected should an outbreak occur again.”
Following the end of the outbreak, Merridale-Punter and Spana’s Mali director Dr Amadou Doumbia met more than 60 veterinary professionals from across the country to gather information about the epidemic and its consequences for working animals and affected communities. Spana also provided further training to vets on respiratory disease, outbreak management and biosecurity.