Clive Hamblin Bvet med MRVCS, NTF Veterinary Adviser, explains Equine Influenza

To help communicate the seriousness of the recent cases of Equine Influenza, our Veterinary Adviser, Clive Hamblin, has written an explanation of the disease and its transmission. He concludes with advice on biosecurity and vaccination. Below his account, we have inserted a link to a scientific paper by Dr Richard Newton (of the Animal Health Trust) and colleagues, demonstrating the increased immunity provided by vaccinating against equine flu at six monthly intervals.

Clive Hamblin writes:

On the eve of our return to racing, I would like to stress that we are not out of the woods yet, although we can perhaps see the odd patch of green between the trunks. It has been a fraught time for all concerned with airtime and column inches normally given to our sport of British horseracing, having to be filled with opinions from many people, some more informed than others.

The simple fact is we have seen an escalating problem with a mutation of a variant of equine influenza, initially seen on the continent and also in Ireland and now Great Britain. It has been reported in a number of individual outbreaks, across the land, most of which have been in unvaccinated horses, then more alarmingly in vaccinated horses and then with entry into the racing population, as you well know.

There is a wide range of pathogens affecting the respiratory tract of the racehorse, seen at intervals, across the spectrum of yards, many of which are viral and many bacterial, but make no mistake, these are not Equine Influenza. This latest outbreak is!! No, it is not Ebola, but it has the potential to bring racing to a coughing and spluttering halt and not just for 6 days.

I would like to commend the BHA and its officers, the Animal Health Trust and my fellow members of its Veterinary Committee for their prompt and sensible action. This break has enabled us to take stock and properly assess the situation prior to making an evidence-based programme for the recommencement of the sport, maintaining the best health of the national racehorse herd and with the least risk of further spread of this potentially debilitating disease.

It is perhaps of value to know how the disease progresses. Virus particles from an infected horse are discharged in a spray of water droplets when breathing, coughing or snorting and are inhaled by our horse. The virus gains access to the cells of the airway and rapidly multiplies, this is the period we call “incubation”, 48 hrs to 4 days in duration. This is then followed by the period when clinical signs are apparent although they may be subdued in vaccinated horses, particularly if that has been recently carried out. This is the period when the horse may be “shedding” virus (can be up to 10 days) and is the optimum time for swabbing (inserting a long swab through the nose and collecting mucous from the throat region ready for transporting to the laboratory). The laboratory will carry out PCR on this sample where any viral RNA (this virus’s equivalent of DNA) is multiplied many, many times and can then be identified. The immune system of our horse now is in full flight combating the virus invasion, the horse stops shedding and is now no longer infective to the rest of the population. Damage done to the respiratory tract will gradually repair allowing a return to training in due course.

The equine influenza virus cannot live for long outside its infected host but can live for short periods in secretions in a stable, lorry or on a groom’s clothing, providing another source of infection. The main source though is a newly infected horse and more often than not, a horse newly introduced into the herd. That could be from overseas, the Sales or perhaps a breaking or livery yard or a new intake horse from shared transport.

In the light of this new influenza outbreak we have two major weapons in our armoury, namely vaccination and biosecurity. There are quite a number of scientific papers supporting the evidence that vaccinating at 6 month intervals gives superior protection against equine influenza virus and hence the BHAs approach to resuming racing if the participants have been so protected. This was never going to please every owner and trainer, but the advice of world experts would be ignored at our peril.

With regard to biosecurity, the watchword is all new inmates should have a period in a quarantine unit, preferably some distance from the training yard. For those looking for a cracking good read, I refer you to the NTF Code of Practice for Infectious Diseases of Racehorses in Training booklet (or via the NTF website, https://www.racehorsetrainers.org/publications/pdfs/cop.pdf . Please, please pay particular attention to the sections on biosecurity……pages 3-11 and try and orchestrate the best arrangements you can.

Clive Hamblin Bvet med MRVCS

12th February 2019

Dr Richard Newton et al paper on

Optimising vaccination strategies in equine influenza.”

 

and the layman’s explanation on the BHA website

 

 

NTF comment on the resumption of racing on Wednesday

It is great that racing – both flat and jump – resumes today.

From the outset, the NTF supported the BHA’s strict containment strategy once cases of equine influenza were reported. Our policy was shaped by the unanimous opinion of trainers on the NTF Council that to safeguard the race programme in the longer term, it was vital in the short term to stop the circulation of horses around the country to race meetings until the extent of the outbreak and consequent disease risk could be assessed.

Trainers are competitive creatures – they want to be racing. We encouraged the BHA to plan ahead for the moment when the BHA’s Veterinary Committee (which includes the NTF’s Veterinary Adviser Clive Hamblin) was satisfied the risk to the horse population was acceptable so racing could begin again.

Well done to the BHA, the Veterinary Committee and vets up and down the country for achieving so much in such a short space of time. Trainers – hats off to you. From day to day, you deal with multiple responsibilities and challenges but somehow maintain resilience. Coping with the racing shutdown and testing requirements has added enormous stress to an already pressurised training operation. Some of you have questioned the industry disease containment policy – we accept that will always happen when events present the sport with difficult decisions.

Less welcome are the control measures agreed by the Veterinary Committee. These have produced different outcomes for different trainers and owners; some will be able to race, some won’t for at least a few more days. The NTF was not in favour of a requirement for runners to have had a flu vacc within the last six months. Some horses react poorly to the vaccine so unplanned vaccinating mid-season is undesirable, especially for Cheltenham bound horses so close to the big event. The control measure will also deprive some yard and not others from participating in the rescheduled trial races and other essential prep or qualifying runs. We tried yesterday morning to persuade the BHA to use some flexibility and though they wouldn’t budge, they acted quickly to refund entry fees and put on alternative races.

We are assured the scientific case for a recent flu vaccination is strong so we have had to accept that decision as a condition of the most desirable outcome for all – the resumption of racing today.

 

BHA update regarding equine influenza case

10/02/2019 @16:35:00

Testing at licensed yards across the country is ongoing, with a view to quickly assessing and containing the potential spread of the highly contagious equine influenza virus which is affecting vaccinated horses.

The BHA is continuing to build a picture of the potential spread of the disease by testing as many horses as possible from potentially exposed yards. The data collected will help to build an evidence base which will allow a decision to be made on Monday as to whether racing can return on Wednesday 13 February.

Surveillance update

The Animal Health Trust (AHT) has now received several thousands of samples and is working through the process of testing those samples. The latest update that has been provided to the BHA confirms that no further positive cases have been identified from the testing carried out yesterday. Owing to the volume of testing being carried out the AHT have not been able to provide a precise figure as to the number of tests carried out, but they are of the view that the numbers processed will be roughly equivalent to the 720 which were processed the previous day.

Amongst the samples that have been tested are those of the remaining 27 horses from the yard of Rebecca Menzies. All horses in this yard have now tested negative, though the yard will remain under close surveillance and further testing will be carried out.

Analysis remains ongoing with more swabs being returned all the time, and yesterday 5,000 extra swabs were distributed to trainers to assist with the logistical challenges of testing this many horses.

The AHT have also publicly confirmed that a non-thoroughbred, unvaccinated horse has sadly had to be humanely euthanized after having contracted the virus. This shows the threat posed by the disease in unvaccinated horses and the importance of biosecurity procedures and movement restrictions to contain the possible spread of the disease.

Equine influenza should not be confused with or compared to the common ‘bug’ that might impact some yards from time to time. It is the most potentially damaging of the respiratory viruses that occur in UK equines, and it can be particularly serious for younger horses, which is of particular concern with the breeding season about to start. Trainers are required under the rules to notify the BHA should a case of equine influenza be identified or suspected in their yard.

Return to racing

A pragmatic and evidence-led approach is being adopted in order to enable the BHA to make decisions on Monday as to whether racing can return on Wednesday 13 February. A prioritisation plan for testing is being adopted, which is based on the proximity of horses to a positive test, or to a yard returning a positive test. Swabs will continue to be collected and tested from other horses, but some are being fast tracked. Separately, a specific plan is being formed as to what the clearance process will be for individual yards to return to racing.

This process will remain ongoing through today and tomorrow with a view to sufficient evidence being gathered to make a decision on Monday evening as to whether racing can return on Wednesday. We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding that as much evidence as possible must be gathered prior to making a decision as to when racing can safely return.

Should racing be given the go ahead to return on Wednesday then declarations for all races would take place on Tuesday.

David Sykes, Director of Equine Health and Welfare for the BHA, said:

“The data is encouraging and provides a further indication that the precautionary safety measures have helped to contain the spread of disease. However, the picture is still developing and it remains the case that we will make an evidence-based decision about the situation on Monday.

“It remains paramount that, for the sake of our horse population, we do not take any unnecessary risks. This is not a common cold, it is a highly contagious and potentially serious disease.

“The prioritisation exercise with regards to testing will help deliver a detailed picture of the spread of infection. Targeted testing, alongside the wide survey of data we have already gathered, will help provide a clear picture as to the scale of the spread of the disease. Any decision will include guidance and input from veterinary experts, including the industry’s veterinary committee.

“We are also working through the process that will be followed in order to give specific yards the all clear to resume racing. This will balance the clear need for yards to resume business as soon as possible with ensuring that we do not put horses at the risk of unnecessary harm. We are liaising with the NTF and trainers on this process.”

Testing costs

As confirmed last night, the BHA and Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) have agreed to pay a contribution to owners or trainers for the costs incurred where the BHA has required samples to be taken, including the cost of the swabs and the veterinary fees involved. We are working on the exact details with the NTF and HBLB and will confirm the reimbursement policy and process as soon as possible, but it will be based on a fixed fee per horse sampled.

The BHA is extremely grateful to HBLB for their important support and contribution.

BHA update regarding equine influenza case

08/02/2019 @ 14:25:00

The BHA has committed to providing meaningful daily updates regarding the ongoing situation in relation to the equine influenza case.

The analytical work is continuing, which involves testing of horses from a number of trainers yards across the country and seeking to isolate any issues we find in a bid to ensure that the situation is under control as much as possible, to protect the health of animals and to put racing back on the road as soon as is safely possible.

We will provide material updates with regards to any new cases and give as much information as is relevant and appropriate each day, while also respecting confidentiality and privacy of potentially affected people.

The BHA team is working closely with trainers, the NTF and other parts of racing, from who we have had excellent levels of cooperation. The Animal Health Trust is processing tests in their hundreds as quickly as possible and, alongside the project team at the BHA, is working throughout the weekend to help build an overall picture of the issue.

This process will continue over the coming days in order that an informed and evidence-based decision can be made on Monday as to whether racing can return on Wednesday. In the meantime we ask that everyone involved in the sport continues to be vigilant, restrict where possible all movements of horses and people and maintains the highest standards of biosecurity.

Of the samples that have been returned so far, three further positive results for equine influenza have been reported, all from the original affected yard. This means that in total six positive tests have been returned from the horses tested so far from this yard. Of the four horses from this yard who competed at fixtures this week, one has returned a positive sample so far – Raise A Spark, who competed at Ayr on 6 February. The test on this runner relates to a sample taken the following day, and the horse showed no clinical symptoms on raceday.

It was in anticipation of this risk that the decision was taken by the BHA to restrict movement of horses on a precautionary basis at the yards of 120 other trainers who competed at these fixtures, and to suspend racing until Wednesday at the earliest. This action was taken to mitigate the impact of any of the runners which competed at these fixtures being found to be infected by the virus.

We request that media respect that the priority of the yard in question now is to follow the necessary procedures to minimise the impact of this incident, and therefore not to contact the yard. Any queries on this matter should be directed to the BHA. The BHA would like to reiterate its thanks to the trainer for his cooperation and the responsible manner in which he has deal with this issue.

Testing of horses at the 120 yards which have been put on hold is continuing on an ongoing basis. No further positive samples have been reported as yet.

However, a separate suspicious case – which has not yet been confirmed as a positive sample – has been identified at another yard. No links have been identified between this yard and the original yard. This yard had runners at the fixtures at Newcastle on 5 February and Wolverhampton on 6 February, and as such the BHA has taken the further precautionary steps of placing all 54 yards of trainers who also had runners at these fixtures on hold and initiating testing of horses from these yards.

The BHA is working closely with the Animal Health Trust in order to manage the logistical challenge of providing sufficient swabs and handling the volume of tests being sent through the facility, considering that testing of a total of 174 yards is now taking place. It will not be possible to test every horse from every yard before the end of the weekend, but we will work with trainers to identify any priority or risk horses and ensure that they are tested. This will all form part of the picture that is built in order to assist the decisions that will be made on Monday.

Equine flu – Statement from Donald McCain

NEWS RELEASE

7 February 2019 -For immediate release

STATEMENT FROM DONALD MCCAIN CONCERNING HORSES AFFECTED BY EQUINE FLU

The National Trainers Federation is issuing the following statement from trainer Donald McCain to provide some background information about the cases of Equine Influenza at his Bankhouse premises in Cheshire.

“I have been aware of the recent news about Equine Influenza outbreaks in France and Ireland, and over the last couple of days, I have been concerned about the health status of a small number of horses in the yard. Their welfare is at the front of our minds, so at my request, our veterinary surgeon has examined them regularly and we have followed his advice on testing and treatment. It was by following this protocol that the positive results for equine flu came to light yesterday evening. The BHA were contacted immediately and we are liaising closely with them about biosecurity and management of all the horses at Bankhouse.

“Bankhouse follows all the available advice on disease control and all our horses are fully inoculated. We are scrupulous about observing the health status of horses in our care and taking the necessary steps to treat any condition that may affect them. It follows we would never race any horses that we could have known were infected. Over the last 2 months, all potential runners have been scoped and their blood checked within 36 hours of their races to ensure that only healthy horses compete for the yard.

“When new horses arrive at our yard we, as much as possible, try to keep them separate but at this stage cannot know if the infection came from recent arrivals or from horses returning from racing. We have 3 confirmed cases and this morning have taken blood and swabs from all the others for testing.”

Comment from David Sykes, BHA Director of Equine Health and Welfare, “We would like to thank Donald McCain for his cooperation in this matter, and for the responsible manner in which he has dealt with this issue, under the guidance of his veterinary surgeon. He has acted professionally with the interests of the racing industry and the health of his horses as his priority.”

Mr. McCain will provide updates in due course.

Ends

The National Trainers Federation represents the interests of British licensed racehorse trainers.

For more information, please contact Rupert Arnold, NTF Chief Executive, on 01488 71794 or 07899 797010. E-mail: r.arnold@racehorsetrainers.org

For more information on the National Trainers Federation, please go to www.racehorsetrainers.org

Equine flu outbreak becoming more serious – take extra precautions

Late yesterday the Animal Health Trust issued an update on the outbreak of equine flu. As a result, trainers should take extra care about biosecurity to prevent the infection entering their yard.

Your first point of reference is the NTF’s Code of Practice for Infectious Diseases and associated Bio-Security Guidelines. These are found in the Horse Welfare section of the Members Area on our website. You can also check them on the EquiBioSafe app, which can be downloaded on both Apple and Android mobile devices.

With the increased threat to thoroughbreds in training, you should take precautions about service providers (e.g. farriers, vets, para-professionals) entering your premises and mixing with the horses. Ask where they have been prior to arriving at your yard. Consider providing clean over-clothing for them. Don’t forget to include headwear as a potential carrier of disease. Find out if any of your staff visit other equestrian premises or mix with other horses whose health status is unknown. New horses entering a yard should be isolated for a period of 14 days.

Vaccinations – the strong recommendation is to give an equine flu vaccination booster to any of your horses that have not received one in the last six months. Obviously this will depend on when the horse is likely to be racing next. It is a recommendation, not a rule.

Be vigilant. Confirmed cases must be reported to the British Horseracing Authority – this can be done via the EquiBioSafe App or by emailing equine@britishhorseracing.com or calling 020 7152 0009.