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Exotic Diseases that can Harm Horse Health

Diseases which only affect horses living outside the UK have historically been known as 'exotic diseases'. However, with the increased global movement of horses and also climate change, the risk to UK horses of contracting an 'exotic disease' is ever increasing.

There are currently five main exotic disease risks to the UK:

West Nile Virus - This virus is transmitted by mosquitos and causes inflammation of the central nervous system (encephalitis). It can affect horses and people. Symptoms in horses include fever, weakness of the hindlimbs, seizures and aimless walking.

African Horse Sickness - This disease is caused by an Orbivirus and affects horses, mules and donkeys. The virus is spread by insect vectors, such as midges and mosquitos, and symptoms include swelling around the eyes, fever, frothing and discharge from the nostrils, a swollen face and heavy breathing.

By permission of Prof. Dr. H. Mehlhorn, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
By permission of Prof. Dr. H. Mehlhorn, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA) - This disease is caused by a Lentivirus which is primarily spread by insect vectors but can also be spread via infected blood products or through contaminated surgical equipment .Symptoms include high fever, swelling of the lower limbs, weakness and sudden death.

Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) - This virus is spread via mating, artificial insemination, via the respiratory route or by contact with aborted foetuses. Symptoms include conjunctivitis, swelling of the lower limbs, abortion and depression.

Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) -This disease is spread by mating or artificial insemination. Stallions do not show any symptoms of the disease but symptoms in mares include infertiliy and vaginal discharge.

All of the above diseases are classified as ‘notifiable’. Notifiable diseases are diseases that one is legally obliged to report to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Therefore, if your horse displays any of the clinical signs listed above please contact your vet for further advice.

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