Troublesome equine diseases |

Troublesome equine diseases

Infectious equine diseases continue to be troublesome and I cannot come to any sense of complacency in spite of federal and international controls which are in place. There may be an unwarranted feeling of safety afoot, which is dangerous in itself.

For instance, the 22 horses that died in Iceland in a week over Christmas, from Salmonella Infection. A total of 41 horses were infected; now it seems now the rest may recover. Icelandic sources reported “The infection is believed to have come from a sedimentation pond in the herd’s pasturage.”

Árni Pall Árnason, owner of one horse that died and another severely affected which may either live or die, spent a week of days and nights with his wife alongside sick horses, trying to save them. He commented, “I’m surprised that the authorities reacted both in a fumbling and slow manner to begin with. Coordination was lacking and a task force should have been established.”

Árnason pointed out, however, that Icelandic authorities have never had to deal with such an extensive infection before. Therein lies the problem, as I see it. Nobody expects big health issues, either human or equine, relying on a false sense of security in modern diagnostics and drugs. Perhaps nobody has had to deal with extensive issues before… but where on earth are the contingency plans in case those issues arise?

Some months ago I wrote an article in TSLN’s Horse Edition on the Great Epizootic of Equine Influenza which hit the America’s more than a century ago – paralyzing everything from Canada to Panama. There have been outbreaks of that same disease in Australia, Japan, and many other places in the last year. It hasn’t gone away – nor have many other bugs, like Salmonella.

There’s a sizable Salmonella outbreak among humans in the Portland, OR region right now, traced to food at McDonalds. Some of my family members are involved. “If you don’t get better,” the doctors say, “we’ll have to remove your gall bladders.” They’re not counting much on their drugs when it gets down to the nitty gritty, because the drugs aren’t working.

Beyond that, investigation into an outbreak of contagious equine metritis (CEM) continues to grow as seven stallions in Kentucky and Indiana have been confirmed as positive by the USDA. They say, “On December 15, 2008, the State of Kentucky confirmed a case of contagious equine metritis (CEM) in a quarter horse stallion on a central Kentucky premises. A total of eight stallions have now been confirmed as positive for CEM by USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. Four of the infected stallions are located in Kentucky, three are in Indiana, and one is in Wisconsin. The Indiana stallions spent time on the central Kentucky premises during the 2008 breeding season. The Wisconsin stallion was not in Kentucky, but was co-located during the 2007 breeding season in Wisconsin with one of the CEM-positive stallions that was on the Kentucky premises in 2008.

“In addition to the 8 positive stallions, the locations of 326 exposed horses have also been confirmed. The total of 334 horses includes 43 stallions and 291 mares located in a total of 39 States. The 43 positive or exposed stallions are located in 11 States, and the 291 exposed mares are in 37 States. There are 43 additional exposed mares still actively being traced.

“All CEM-positive horses, and all exposed horses that have been located, are currently under quarantine or hold order. Testing and treatment protocols are being put into action for all located horses.”

Recent international reports confirmed CEM in two horses in France and a non-Thoroughbred stallion in Switzerland. Today’s rapid transit, extensive breeding, and sometimes sloppy practices of owners and health officials keep our equine population at high risk. This is not to disregard the many in each field who are beyond reproach for their thorough and safe practices… but just one unguarded, sloppy operator can wreak havoc on all the rest.

On that subject we learn this month, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing to amend its domestic livestock regulations in order to enhance the traceability of animals in the United States. These proposed changes would create greater standardization and uniformity of official numbering systems and eartags used in both animal disease programs and the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).”

Of course that’s geared more to other livestock than horses; and yes, we all have a knee-jerk reaction toward more governmental control, because we know the many ways it can be misused, as proven by bills and legislation the animal activists are always pushing. Even so, monitoring efficiency can be very important should we be faced with infectious disease epidemics – and again, I fully believe we’re vulnerable to such possibilities.

So where do we find a middle ground – how much do we work with government – how much can we rely on them in times of peril? These are huge questions.

Being informed as much as possible is foundational. Monitor sources like,,, and anywhere else you can find updates on equine health worldwide. May we never be caught asleep at the switch.

We mentioned the Black Hills Stock Show here last week, and I hope many of you are planning to take in the variety of entertaining and educational activities there. My cowboy and I look forward to the chance to visit with you; if you see me please come up and introduce yourself and give me feedback on things you’d like to see in this column… or things you’re tired of hearing here, whatever the case may be. I always love to visit with readers!

Speakin’ of input, the Black Hills Fellowship of Christian Cowboys wants me to let you know about Cowboy Church activities during BHSS. Sunday, Feb. 1st, the talented Oklahoma cowgirl Susie Luchsinger (you all know she’s Reba’s sister) will sing in the Civic Center Theater at 11 a.m., joined by special guests giving their testimonies. The following Sunday, Feb. 8, former PRCA calf roper and current pastor of Shepherd’s Valley Cowboy Church in Texas, Russ Weaver, will conduct 11 a.m. services in the Theater. You may be familiar with Russ and Susie from their Cowboy Church program, widely seen on RFD TV. Susie keeps BHSS on her busy schedule and has appeared there the past several years.

Looks like our ol’ lariat rope has come plumb to the end once more…

© 2009 Rhonda Stearns

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