If you are one of the two million people who owns a horse in the United States, you may be familiar with the equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV). The illness can be fatal and as there is no real treatment for it, prevention is your best bet to protect your animal.
The illness is often referred to as “Swamp Fever” and can infect donkeys, zebras and otters equine animals. Horses can serve as carriers of the disease, showing no symptoms but remaining able to transmit the deadly disease to other animals via a vector such as a mosquito (or other insect) or through the placenta. Horses that carry the disease but remain asymptomatic (do not look sick) are much less likely to transmit the illness to other animals. For instance, a horse fly that bites a carrier horse and a six million to one chance of transmitted EIAV to another animal. Unfortunately, animals who do show equine infectious anemia virus expression are likely to die within a short period of time (no more than two to three weeks). The illness can be confirmed with an equine infectious anemia virus antibody test also called the Coggins’ test.
- Test horses for the disease at least once a year. When and if you get new horses, make sure you test them when you buy them. Do not let them spend any time around your horses util you get the results. To be completely sure your horses are safe, isolate new horses from the others for at least 45 days.
- Do not reuse needles. Use disposable needles only once.
- Stables that serve shows need to make sure all horses that use their facility test have negative Coggins’ tests. Animals who are at risk for infection need to be retested often.
- Keep stable areas clean. This helps cut down on the number of pests that can carry the virus to new animals. It is especially important to keep the amount of manure to a minimum.
- Know the symptoms of the equine infectious anemia virus. Acute cases will cause a fever and hemorrhaging. Chronic episodes will include diarrhea, weakness, eye discharge, loss of coordination and appetite, spontaneous abortion and paralysis of the hindquarters. If you see any of these symptoms in your animals, have them tested as soon as you can.
Animals who have tested positive for the equine infectious anemia virus need to be reported to federal and state agencies who normally recommend the infected animal be euthanized to protect other horses. If you choose to quarantine an animal who has tested positive, you must put signs up alerting others to the animal’s status so they can take whatever precautions they can. If you suspect your animal has the equine infectious anemia virus, make sure you have the horse tested. Most animal clinics have the appropriate veterinary diagnostics tests to help. Vigilance against the illness is everyone’s best weapon against its spread.