Fears over horse virus

A POTENTIALLY devastating equine disease has been detected in the heart of Newmarket's multi-million pound bloodstock industry.The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed that a five-year-old stallion stabled in the Newmarket area has been positively tested for Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) .

A POTENTIALLY devastating equine disease has been detected in the heart of Newmarket's multi-million pound bloodstock industry.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed that a five-year-old stallion stabled in the Newmarket area has been positively tested for Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) .

The viral disease is sexually transmitted and can cause abortions in pregnant mares.

And, with many stallions covering hundreds of mares each season at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds a time, it could have a cataclysmic effect on the industry should it spread.

A spokesman for Defra confirmed that the horse had failed a blood test while stabled near Newmarket in October, and had been kept under quarantine pending the results of a further test, which has now also proved positive.

Symptoms of the virus, which can also be transmitted via the respiratory system, include fever, depression, lethargy, stiff movement, runny nose, conjunctivitis or pink eye, and swelling of the lower parts of the legs and genitals.

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However, according to a spokesman for International Racehorse Transport (IRT), the company based at Westley Waterless, near Newmarket, which brought the horse into the country, the animal is not contagious and there was no risk to the racehorse breeding industry.

He said the horse had been tested as a matter of routine before it was exported to New Zealand and was a show horse, a breed in which the virus is fairly common, rather than a thoroughbred racehorse, among whom it is comparatively rare.

He said: “I am not underestimating the fears people may have about the virus in the thoroughbred industry, but this horse was never contagious and could have only spread the disease through breeding.

“Any horse diagnosed with the virus is banned from breeding in the UK and the horse has been kept away from other horses and has a movement order placed on it by Defra since it was first diagnosed in October.”

He said it was impossible to know when the horse had contracted the virus, but it was only transmitted via the respiratory system for a short period, not unlike the common cold, after which period it was only transmitted sexually.

Furthermore he said the virus was so common in lower breeds of horse that some countries did not impose restrictions because of the presence of the virus.

His comments were underlined by a spokesman for leading equine vets Greenwood, Ellis and Partners, who are based in Newmarket and are vets to IRT.

He said: “It was an animal that was in transit to go abroad, he has had the disease previously and he has convalesced from it before reaching this country.

“We have not had a case of EVA in Newmarket because he had recovered from it and had not had the opportunity to spread the disease.”

The spokesman added that, were EVA ever to be detected among the thoroughbred population, it would have very serious consequences for the bloodstock industry.

The horse is still being kept at a farm near Newmarket and Defra said the State Veterinary Service was undertaking a detailed investigation of the case, which included tracing any animals which had come into contact with the infected stallion.

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