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A roundtable meeting of equine experts, hosted by UK Vet and supported by MSD Animal Health, met recently to discuss approaches to equine flu outbreaks, diagnosis and management, and how to support vets in reducing future risks. The discussion included seven equine experts from organisations including the Animal Health Trust, Rossdales Equine Hospital, Valley Equine Hospital and Rainbow Equine Hospital. The aim was to produce a document that would assist practicing equine vets in understanding how to minimise the risk of equine influenza infection and better manage future disease outbreaks.

Richard Newton, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance at the Animal Health Trust started proceedings with details of historial outbreaks of equine flu, and concluded with details of the 192 outbreaks so far this year. Severe disease has occurred in unvaccinated horses, including at least two fatalities. This led into a discussion on the fact that some owners wrongly perceive influenza as a relatively benign disease or one which only affects racehorses due to the media attention on this demographic of horses.

Dr Phillip Ivens, European Veterinary Specialist in Equine Internal Medicine at Buckingham Equine Vets: “The vaccination paradox is an issue currently faced in many areas of preventative healthcare. Vaccination has been so successful over the years in reducing disease and death from disease that a lack of visibility is leading to false levels of reassurance. The result is low vaccination rates, the results of which were clearly seen this year with the rise in the number of outbreaks of equine flu that occurred. Vets and industry need to work closely together to stop this decline and raise awareness of the importance of vaccination and effective management of disease.”

Multiple reasons for non-vaccination were discussed including owner apathy, an anti-vaccination stance, the cost of vaccinating multiple horses and low incomes. It was agreed that the threats to the spread of equine flu were the result of a range of issues included the mixing of unvaccinated horses at events, no mandatory vaccination requirements at some events, poor application of biosecurity, new arrivals not being quarantined and the clinical signs not being caught early enough.

The outputs from this meeting will include a range of disease management guidelines and will be finalised by UK VET Equine Journal, in the form of a published, consensus article of practical recommendations, and made available via the journals online platform