What's most alarming about the recent EIA case?

Most equine owners in Northeast Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin have likely learned by now of a couple of recent cases of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), an often deadly retrovirus that attacks equids. One horse has reportedly been euthanized. The other (apparently originating from the same location) may be at large - in our own region or in parts unknown.

Although veterinarians are urging horse owners not to panic, particularly in this season, a few valid concerns seem to linger.

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1. The infected horse was apparently diagnosed two months ago (in mid-November), and many local equine professionals and horse owners are only now hearing about it. We have to wonder why no public warning was issued when this first occurred.

2. The infected horse seems to have been removed suddenly and without warning from the stable where it had been housed. According to Illinois Department of Agriculture reports, another horse on the same premises tested positive for EIA and was euthanized. But the first horse supposedly went missing. The USDA is said to be investigating. Is the animal housed in a local stable or in someone’s back pasture perhaps? What happens when far-flying insects bite that equine and then zip over to a nearby horse farm or equestrian facility to nibble on additional horses, ponies, or donkeys? 

3. No one seems to know anything about the horse in question. Sure, privacy laws may prevent specific disclosure, but some sort of hint might be helpful and could put certain fears to read. We have no idea what barn was affected. We don’t know what kind of horse it was. For example, what breed, discipline, age, color, or gender is the horse? We have no clue where the horse may be at this time. We are unaware of whether the horse is even still alive.

4. If local testing of potentially at-risk equines took place, we surely haven’t heard about it. The Illinois State Veterinarian website includes this statement about EIA: “State law also mandates testing of equidae within 1 1/2 miles of a single positive animal and 3 miles of multiple positive animals.” Depending upon precisely where the two affected equines (both the apparently still missing one and the euthanized one) were based when they were diagnosed, their general area could include a whole lot of horse farms.

Psst. Give us a clue, please. Or at least, a timely heads-up.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have some sort of veterinary alert system in place, whereby horse owners – or at least, equine professionals (such as local veterinarians, barn owners/managers, show facility owners/managers, equestrian trainers, and farriers) – shared key details of such instances? Maybe we don’t need the equines’ and owners’ names, but we need to know enough to discern whether our own equines are at heightened risk.

Ideas, folks?

On the plus side …

1. Equine owners whose animals are stabled in reputable facilities will recall that the barn management requires annual current negative Coggins Test results. Solid show facilities do the same. Trainers and clinicians practicing responsible professional standards insist on such documentation for all trailer-in equines. That should provide some assurance, although it’s no guarantee that horses on neighboring and nearby properties (within insect flight range) have been tested.

2. Now in midwinter, area horses may face reduced risk of EIA infection. This virus, though dangerous and currently incurable, is blood-borne. Freezing temperatures in this region have all but eliminated biting insects for a while. However, winter was late in coming this time, so November and early December disease transmission could have taken place.

3. Several horse vets have indicated that the incubation period for EIA is a matter of a few weeks. That means any horses infected by the initial cases would likely (but not always) have shown some symptoms by now. But that does not necessarily include secondary, tertiary, or subsequent generation cases, if those exist.

4. Because we have entered a new calendar year, responsible horse owners are already lining up veterinary appointments for this year’s Coggins Tests. Once we receive our own satisfactory laboratory results, we may rest easier. At the same time, it is certainly possible for a horse to become infected with EIA shortly after the test has been performed and remain undiagnosed until symptoms may arise (or another test is performed).

OK, so we won’t panic. But we’re still watching.

And we’d appreciate a few hints about the infected horse’s identity, location, and current condition. We’re not nosy, and we feel very sorry for the owner/s whose horse/s have been affected or even lost. We just love our own horses and want to sleep better.

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