Stop moving horses: Thai officials work to stop spread of African horse sickness

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African Horse Sickness is spread by the Culicoides (midges) species. A 16th-inch-long (1.6mm) female biting midge (Culicoides sonorensis) feeding on blood.
African Horse Sickness is spread by the Culicoides (midges) species. Pictured is a 16th-inch-long (1.6mm) female biting midge (Culicoides sonorensis) feeding on blood. © Scott Bauer, USDA ARS

Thai equestrian officials are imploring owners to stop moving horses following confirmation of an outbreak of deadly African horse sickness in the country’s northeast.

The Thailand Equestrian Federation says there appear to be individuals who don’t understand the need for restrictions around horse movements.

Such unlawful movements could result in the unnecessary deaths of more horses, it says.

Illegal horse movements are punishable under government regulations, it adds.

The current outbreak, centered in the Pak Chong area in the province of Korat, has killed at least 42 racehorses.

The federation’s veterinary adviser, Dr Metha Chanda, told FEI veterinary director, Dr Göran Akerström, in a letter on Saturday that the emergence of the disease had been confirmed by the country’s Department of Livestock Development.

African horse sickness is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and is spread by biting midges.

Horses are considered the most susceptible, with nearly 90% dying if infected. It kills roughly half of infected mules and 10% of donkeys. Infected African donkeys and mules rarely show signs of disease.

The movement of all horses and equine species within a 150km radius of the outbreak have been suspended by authorities.

The federation says anyone who sees the illicit movement of horses, or has a sick horse, should phone the livestock hotline on 063-2256888.

People are required to report any sudden death or suspected cases to the Department of Livestock Development.

Culicoides imicola blood feeding female midges showing stages of blood feeding in relation to transmission of viruses. Top left is an unfed example before any egg laying. Bottom left is the same, but after its first blood meal. Top right is a female after at least one blood meal and egg laying - it has brown pigment in its abdomen and could transmit virus. Bottom right is another midge, showing brown pigment and a fresh bloodmeal. Photo:Alan R Walker CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Culicoides imicola blood-feeding female midges showing stages of blood-feeding in relation to transmission of viruses. Top left is an unfed example before any egg-laying. Bottom left is the same, but after its first blood meal. Top right is a female after at least one blood meal and egg-laying – it has brown pigment in its abdomen and could transmit virus. Bottom right is another midge, showing brown pigment and a fresh bloodmeal. Photo: Alan R Walker CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Restricted movement and good hygiene must also be followed for horses located outside of the outbreak zone, Chanda says.

Checkpoints will be watching for any illegal movements of equines.

“Further measures may be launched to minimize and control the outbreak of the disease,” he says.

In all, there have been 62 cases, across several barns in the outbreak area. A total of 341 horses in the outbreak area are considered susceptible to the disease.

Meanwhile, in nearby Malaysia, the main equestrian body has issued an advisory urging horse owners in the country to take precautionary measures following the outbreak in Thailand.

The Equestrian Association of Malaysia has published a pamphlet outlining appropriate biosecurity measures.

These include restricting the movement of horses in and out of their respective establishments, isolating sick horses, and fumigating all feed trucks and feed.

It asks that stables in the north of the country maintain a movement log for their horses from Thailand for the past 30 days.

Horses with a high fever, nasal discharge, lack of appetite, breathing difficulties, or who die suddenly, should be reported to the State Veterinary Department immediately.

The Culicoides midges responsible for spreading the disease are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. It recommends equine establishments fumigate stable surroundings twice a day.

Stables in the north, considered most at risk, are being encouraged to install insect screens, and apply insect repellents to horses regularly. Horses should not be allowed in paddocks for long periods.

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