Equine Flu - Your Questions Answered

19/02/2019

With new cases of Equine Influenza still being reported, we give answers to the questions everyone is asking

two horses in field close up eye star head

  • What’s the current situation?

Racing has recommenced after it was stopped for six days but there are still new cases of equine flu being reported. It is important that horse owners continue to follow guidelines around travelling to competitions, practicing good hygiene and ensuring vaccinations are up to date.

  • Can vaccinated horses still get flu?

Although vaccines increase the protection against infection, they cannot completely prevent it. Vaccinated horses may still get mild signs of flu, as viruses can mutate and become different from the vaccine strains.

  • Does this mean flu is resistant to the vaccines?

No, the virus is not resistant to the vaccines. Vaccines boost immunity against infection but cannot always prevent it if there is a strong challenge from the virus (usually from unvaccinated horses). Vaccines do not become resistant to viruses in the same way as bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. 

  • Is there any point in vaccinating?

Yes, vaccinating is essential. Only a small number of vaccinated horses have shown mild signs of infection whereas unvaccinated horses can become very sick. The vaccines are showing to be effective in reducing the severity of clinical signs, reducing the length of time that equines are sick and importantly, reducing the spread of infection.

  • What if other people are not vaccinating? Should I still have my horses vaccinated?

Yes, we would strongly advise vaccinating your horse regardless of what other people do. The more people who vaccinate their horses, then the better protected everyone will be. If others on your yard are unvaccinated then the risk of disease is higher so it is even more important you vaccinate to give your horse the best possible protection and encourage others to follow your example. 

  • Will my horse be protected as soon as they have been vaccinated?

If you are boosting an up to date vaccination then your horse may already have reasonable protection but it will take 7-10 days for them to benefit from a booster.

  • How often should I be vaccinating?

Protection reduces as the time between vaccination and infection increase so more frequent vaccination is better and this is the why the FEI recommend every six months and the BHA insist on every six months for racehorses. Under normal circumstances 12 months is sufficient but when the risk is greater (as it is currently) then you can increase the level of protection by vaccinating more frequently. If you are at all concerned then do talk to your vet as they will be best placed to advise on how frequently you should be vaccinating based on the local risk.

  • Are some vaccines better than others?

All 3 licensed vaccines used in the UK are protective.  Two of the vaccines (ProteqFlu and Equilis Prequenza) are a closer match to the virus that is causing the current outbreak than the third (Equip) so these are preferred at the moment, as they may provide better protection. Vaccine strain is only one of many factors that determine how well a vaccine works, other factors are also important such as how well the vaccine stimulates the immune system and how frequently vaccines are administered.  If you have specific questions about vaccines then your vet will be best-placed to advise.

  • If racing was cancelled, why did other equestrian events still go ahead?

Racing had a problem because it was known that a lot of racehorses could have come into contact with flu and as racehorses are young they are not only at a higher risk of infection but also travel extensively across the country, mixing with a lot of other horses. Risks in other equestrian sports are lower but if you are travelling to an event we would recommend the following:

  1. Check the organisers are only allowing vaccinated horses to participate. The BEF has asked competition and training event organisers to check equine ID passports of all horses attending their event to ensure they are vaccinated
  2. Check all horses on the property are vaccinated. Contact with unvaccinated horses should be avoided at all times
  3. Check that the organisers are taking appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of infection
  4. When at the event, avoid contact with other horses and do not share equipment or stabling
  5. If any horses at your yard appear to be unwell, then you must not take your horse/s to an event or competition, even if they do not show any signs of infection

A number of British Eventing venues have put extra precautionary measures in place regarding flu vaccinations too so it’s best to check what the venue requires before you set off.

  • Should I let people who have come into contact with other horses near my horse or on my yard?

Check that the person/people in question have not come into contact with horses that are showing signs of infection. If they have then you should ensure they take appropriate measures to prevent infection spreading, like washing their hands and changing their outer clothing. It’s also important to record movements of people on and off the yard in case there is a problem and you need to make them aware of a disease outbreak. Delivery vehicles moving between equestrian properties should be kept well away from horses on the yard but vehicle disinfection is not necessary.
If you are at all concerned about someone visiting your horses then do speak to them about your concerns as this will help put your mind at rest.

  • Will World Horse Welfare Field Officers and Rehoming Officers still be making visits to do home checks and check-ups?

Yes, our team will still be making visits to do home checks and rehoming check-ups but they will plan their visits so there is no risk of cross infection. If there was an emergency and they had to deal with a potentially infectious horse on the same day as visiting you, they would ensure they change their clothes and take all necessary precautions to prevent any infection spread. All of our teams observe best practice hygiene at all times but particularly during a disease outbreak.

  • I'm planning to bring my horse/s to compete at a World Horse Welfare Rescue and Rehoming Centre. What do I need to know?

Anyone bringing their horse to compete or hire the facilities at one of our Rescue and Rehoming Centres will be required to  show their horse's passport and sign a declaration before they unload their horse/s stating that:

  1. Their horse has been vaccinated against Equine Influenza and those vaccinations are in date, the most recent being given within the last 6 months but not within the last 7 days. 
  2. Their horse is fit, healthy and has not shown any signs of disease, including a raised temperature, in the last 7 days. 
  3. No horse on the yard they are stabled at (or have travelled from) has shown any signs of disease in the last 7 days.