A number of Ontario fairs have cancelled horse shows because of concerns about strangles. Strangles is a nasty and highly contagious disease of horses caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi, which is currently circulating in horses in Ontario (as in most places where horses are present). While most horses recover uneventfully from the infection, it’s problematic because of the potential for severe disease in a small number of horses and because it’s highly transmissible. Some horses that recover can continue to shed the bacterium in their nasal secretions, even after they no longer appear ill. This shedding can persist for a long time in some horses, when the bacterium sets up shop in the guttural pouches. These carrier horses are a big concern because they look healthy but are sources of infection for other horses.
Specific details are lacking, but reports of increased strangles activity in some areas have led to decisions to cancel equine events at cretain fairs.
- The question that always comes up is “is it necessary to cancel the event?”
- However, the question I focus on is “what is the most effective way to deal with this problem?”
I’m all for awareness and measures to reduce transmission of strangles and other diseases. However, the best way to do so is never clear. One approach is to cancel events altogether. Yes, that will prevent transmission, but is such a drastic measure necessary? It’s hard to say, but most often, it’s probably overkill. Sometimes that’s because there’s not really that much more strangles activity than normal, it’s just that there’s more publicized strangles activity. More importantly, it’s not the only way to control transmission. We can never completely prevent transmission at fairs or other events, but there are simple things that can be done to greatly reduce that risk. Using these simple precautions more consistently is better overall for equine health in the area than sporadic cancelling certain events (and going back to previous, limited control practices).
It’s all pretty straightforward. Here is Weese’s “it ain’t rocket science” approach to strangles prevention at fairs (not that anything I say here is particularly new or something I can claim as my own idea… I keep saying these things but they’re rarely done in a sustained manner):
- Don’t bring your horse to a show if it is sick or has been potentially exposed to a horse with strangles.
- Take the horse’s temperature before the horse gets loaded onto the trailer. If it’s high, stay home.
- At the show, use basic infection control practices. These including keeping your horse away from others horses, limiting contact of your horses with other people (whose hands may have been on other horses), avoiding sharing things like water buckets, being on the lookout for sick horses (and keeping well away from them). Some good ideas can be found in the Canadian National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity Standard for the Equine Sector.
- Have someone (owners, or ideally an impartial person) take horses’ temperatures when they arrive. If they have a fever, they go right home. If it’s thought the high temperature might be from transportation, let them take the horse and trailer somewhere away from others for a while. If the temperature doesn’t come down…home they go.
- If the horse has signs that suggest an infectious disease of any kind (not just strangles), such as a cough or runny nose, send them home.
- Make it easy/possible for owners to implement the infection control measures mentioned above.
It’s all really basic stuff, which is why it doesn’t get done. There’s nothing flashy about it, it’s just common sense, infection control 101. If these measures are implemented well, we’d greatly reduce the risk of strangles and various other infectious diseases at fairs and other equine events.