Veterinary experts and leaders in the equine industry have joined together to work closely to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases across UK horses – including the establishment of a COBRA-style Emergency Response Group.
The recent outbreak of equine influenza has demonstrated not only the important role that vaccinations can play, but also how vital it is to educate equine owners about how they can help prevent the spread of diseases.
Equine flu has had a significant impact in recent weeks, including the suspension of racing by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the introduction of extra precautionary measures by some event organisers.
The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is one of the organisation participating and recognises that an outbreak of other infectious – and potentially more harmful – diseases would have an even greater impact. This could include obligatory movement restrictions which would pose a significant risk to the calendars of sporting bodies as well as to the large recreational sector. Unlike equine flu, there is a risk that some of these diseases can be passed onto humans.
To tackle this problem, the BEF has secured wide agreement to a plan to mitigate the impact should the worst threat be realised.
BEF Board Director and Consultant Equine Veterinary Surgeon Jane Nixon gathered together major stakeholders in the equine industry to contribute to the High Health Steering Group. They included the Animal Health Trust, British Equine Veterinary Association, Thoroughbred Breeders Association, BHA, British Horse Society, British Dressage, British Eventing, British Showjumping, The Hunting Office, the Worshipful Company of Farriers together with representatives from Polo and the equine charities.
The agreed strategy will take two approaches:
Education of all equine owners on how best to prevent the spread of disease.
The establishment of a COBRA-style Emergency Response Group for rapid response in event of an outbreak.
The Emergency Response Group first met in response to the equine flu outbreak in February 2019. Representatives from the BEF, British Dressage, British Eventing, British Showjumping as well as experts in equine flu and epidemiology with experience in managing previous outbreaks met regularly to monitor the extent of the outbreak and ensure that equine owners had the best possible information to help tackle the spread of disease.
Nick Fellows, chief executive of the BEF, says:
“The recent equine flu outbreak demonstrated the importance of providing up-to-date accurate information to equine owners. The swift, coordinated actions of the Emergency Response Group helped mitigate the spread of the disease. The BEF has shown its commitment to tackling infectious diseases and we feel confident that we can build on these initial steps to safeguard biosecurity in UK horses in the face of the very real threat from infectious and, in some cases, fatal diseases. I would also like to thank Jane Nixon for bringing so many sections of the equine community together so we can be sure of a co-ordinated response to this threat.”
Jane Nixon, BEF Board Director and Consultant Equine Veterinary Surgeon, added:
“Our message is simple: to promote good habits to prevent disease spread in the horse and subsequently incursion on human health & wellbeing. I believe that when we work together, and take collective responsibility, that can be a very powerful tool in enhancing disease prevention.”