Charlotte Smith: First though, a serious horse disease has been found in two horses in Wiltshire. There hasn’t been a case of equine infectious anaemia, or EIA, in the UK for more than thirty years.
The two horses had been imported from Romania where the disease is endemic. They’ve now been destroyed.
Nigel Gibbens is the UK’s Chief Vet.
Nigel Gibbens (Chief Vet): It’s very serious, it’s a viral disease which there is no vaccine and no effective treatment. It can affect horses in an acute form which causes recurring fever, anaemia, possibly swelling of the lower limbs, weight loss and death, or it can be more chronic and that can range from not showing signs to being unfit and being chronically unfit and it is very hard to diagnose unless the test is taken (break in transmission) so they always present a threat of further spread. And it’s spread essentially by biting flies, but also potentially by other things used on animals such as needles or surgical equipment or so on, that could transmit disease from one horse to another.
CS: Now horses are supposed to be tested for this before they leave Romania, so how did these get through?
NG: Well these horses came to us from Belgium. We’re currently in contact with both the Romanian authorities and the Belgian authorities, but they’ve been in Belgium for some time we think and were onward certified to us from Belgium. But to enter Belgium, yes they should have been tested in Romania. Our current understanding is that they were tested, but again we’re looking urgently to confirm that because that test before leaving Romania is obviously intended to stop the disease spreading from Romania where it is more widespread than any other country of the EU.
CS: Now you picked it up in post import testing in this country. Is that routine then for animals coming from Romania?
NG: We test all animals from Romania on arrival on a risk basis to confirm that they meet all the conditions. For horses from other member states we would only follow up and check a proportion and this was one of those.
CS: So we were lucky really.
NG: Yes this was a real success of the system really. The officer of the Animal Health Agency I believe, though I haven’t spoken to them myself, noticed that these are horses from Romania and decided to do these tests.
CS: Now this disease is, as you say, spread by biting insects so presumably there’s little risk to other horses at this time of year, but it would have been a very different situation in the summer wouldn’t it?
NG: That’s right. In the middle of the summer, yes there’d be much greater risk and that’s why it’s important that we continue to be vigilant about our post import checks, that we do follow up with the authorities in, in those two countries to find out what’s happened here and if anything needs to be done to deal with that, to learn from our experience here and strengthen the system we’ll be looking to make sure that that happens.
CS: Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens.
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