Equine coronavirus circulating in horses in Israel, study findings show

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Other coronaviruses have been reported in cattle, camels and humans in Israel, but until now, coronaviruses have not been reported in horses.
File image. Photo by Ty Van Haren

The equine coronavirus should be considered as a possible cause of illness in horses in Israel affected by a poor appetite, lethargy, a fever and gastrointestinal problems, according to researchers.

The work by Gili Schvartz and her colleagues is believed to be the first to confirm the presence of the virus in horses in the country.

Equine coronavirus is known to cause gut inflammation in horses and can trigger diarrhoea in foals.

The disease is usually self-limiting, but complications can occasionally occur. Supportive care is often required for infected horses.

The researchers, writing in the journal Animals, noted that other coronaviruses have been reported in cattle, camels and humans in Israel. However, until now, coronaviruses have not been reported in horses.

In their study, the scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Beit Dagan, Israel, and the University of California, Davis, set out to determine the exposure of healthy horses to equine coronavirus and determine risk factors for infection.

Serum samples were collected from 333 healthy horses across the country. Testing revealed that 41 of the horses — 12.3% — had antibodies against the coronavirus.

Seropositive horses were found in more than half (58.6%) of the farms and horses located in central Israel, where the risk of exposure was clearly the highest for horses, compared to those living in the north or south.

Horses kept in pasture also had a lower risk of exposure, the study team said.

Although the median age was slightly higher in seropositive horses (13 years versus 11 years), the distribution of ages did not differ statistically between seropositive and seronegative horses, they said.

The authors noted that the vast majority (63 of 64) of pastured horses lived in the north.

“The only factor found to be significantly associated with equine coronavirus exposure in the multivariable model was horses residing in central Israel,” they said.

The study team said the continuous surveillance, isolation and characterization of isolates, and the identification of the origin of infection is needed to better understand the clinical and epidemiological significance of equine coronavirus in horse populations.

The authors characterized the exposure of horses in Israel to the virus as low, while noting the higher seroprevalence in central Israel.

The study team comprised Schvartz, Sharon Tirosh-Levy, Samantha Barnum, Dan David, Asaf Sol, Nicola Pusterla and Amir Steinman.

Schvartz, G.; Tirosh-Levy, S.; Barnum, S.; David, D.; Sol, A.; Pusterla, N.; Steinman, A. Seroprevalence and Risk Factors for Exposure to Equine Coronavirus in Apparently Healthy Horses in Israel. Animals 2021, 11, 894. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030894

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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