Like human influenza, equine influenza can be a seasonal disease with periods of particularly high activity. It’s possible that we are in a period of high flu activity in horses in Ontario, based on cases we’ve seen and anecdotal information from the general population. We’ve seen a couple of confirmed cases of influenza over the past week (which is rather unusual), and unconfirmed rumours suggest that there may be many influenza cases in horses in the province, particularly at racetracks. Given the non-reportable nature of influenza, the often tight-lipped nature of horse owners when it comes to disease, and the typical lack of diagnostic testing to confirm flu in horses with flu-like disease, it’s hard to say what’s really happening.
Regardless, people should be on the lookout for influenza. Horses that develop a fever and/or signs of respiratory disease should be evaluated and isolated unless a non-infectious cause is identified. Facilities with affected horses should implement effective infection control practices to reduce the spread both on the farm and to other farms. People should discuss the risk of influenza exposure in their horses and talk to their veterinarian about whether influenza vaccination is indicated. Veterinarians can also use this situation as a reminder to owners of the ever-present risk of various infectious diseases, and as a lead-in to an assessment of the regular farm infection control plan (and if the farm doesn’t have one, get started on it).