The African Horse Sickness Virus (AHSV) is a devastating disease with up to 90% fatality in horses. Although we’ve all heard about ‘horse sickness,’ the recent shortage of vaccine in South Africa has us exploring many options to protect our beloved equine partners from the effects of this virus.
The truth is, no one method of African horse sickness prevention is fool proof, and horse owners must adopt a holistic approach to keeping the insects that carry the virus at bay.
Why is this important?
What Is African Horse Sickness?
African horse sickness (AHS) is a serious, often fatal disease that affects horses, donkeys and mules. It’s highly infectious, and likely to spread rapidly through equines in the area once it appears in a certain location. Infected horses and other equines experience fever and respiratory and heart problems. Due to the nature of the virus, the fatality rate is high.
As the name suggests, AHS primarily occurs in Africa, but also appears in the middle east and parts of Europe. The virus has devastating effects on the equine market, and remains the most economically significant equine disease in the world.
AHS continues to spread. The effects of climate change mean the virus can survive in areas that were unsuitable previously. In South Africa, horse owners must remain mindful of the dangers with a shortage of available vaccines due to an outbreak in the United States. AHS is on the WHOA list of notifiable diseases, and informing authorities of an outbreak is compulsory.
What Causes African Horse Sickness?
AHS is transmitted by insects and is not contagious by contact.
In many areas, it’s most commonly transmitted by Culicoid midges, and occasionally mosquitoes and biting flies. In simple terms, if a midge, mosquito or tick bites a horse who has the virus, and then bite another horse, they transmit the virus.
Midges are carried by the wind, allowing them to cover large distances and spread the virus across country. Protecting your horse from insects and ensuring they receive the live vaccine are the most effective methods of protection against the virus.
When and Where Is AHS Most Prevalent?
In general, AHS is most prevalent when the midges are most active — after heavy rain and in the summer months. Although there’s considerably less risk in the colder season, prevention efforts should not be completely abandoned.
In the warmer months, the midges that carry horse sickness are most active between dusk and dawn.
What are the Symptoms of African Horse Sickness?
African horse sickness is a notifiable disease. If your horse has any of the following symptoms, contact your vet immediately:
• Swelling and redness around the eyes.
• Frothing and discharge from the nostrils.
• Slow and heavy breathing.
• Swelling in the face.
Why Is it Important to Protect Your Horse From African Horse Sickness?
There is no cure and no real treatment for AHS outside of rest and good care. Although you can take veterinary measures, such as administering medications to control the pain and fever, these treatments are by no means a cure, and there is no scientific evidence they make a real difference.
While vaccinations are effective in protecting your horse from AHS, they are not infallible. There have been many incidences where vaccinated horses have contracted the virus and resulted in fatalities.
Taking every available measure to protect your horse is essential to minimize the risks. Being proactive is vital, such as installing effective insect repellent measures that work throughout the year to minimize contact with midges and mosquitoes.
How To Prevent African Horse Sickness in Your Stable Yard
Taking a holistic approach to AHS prevention is best to manage the risk to your horse and give you peace of mind as a horse owner. The most critical task is to protect your horse from midges and other insects such as mosquitos and biting flies. The following tips and tricks can help you to keep your horse and your stable yard AHS-free:
• Vaccinate: Although the vaccine may be challenging to find, vaccinating your horse is the first step to avoiding infection.
• Use insect protection: When your horse is out in the paddock, ensure you protect him from biting insects as much as possible — use fly sheets and insect repellents such as citronella to minimise the chance of bites.
• Set up fans: Keep the air moving in your horse’s stable by setting up some fans. Moving air makes it uncomfortable for insects.
• Take temperatures: A fever is one of the first signs of AHS infection. Take your horse’s temperature once a day — it should be between 37.5 and 38.5 degrees Celsius. If you notice any significant variations, contact your vet immediately.
• Insect-proof your stables: Insect-proof stabling is essential, especially when the midges are most active. Horses that sleep outside at night are at greater risk of contracting African horse sickness. Protect your stables with clear, UV resistant mesh wherever possible to stop insects, but still allow natural airflow.
Keep Your Horses Safe From African Horse Sickness With SheerGuard
As horse owners we dread the AHS season. Every year we look for new and more effective methods to keep our horses protected from this terrifying disease. Limiting your horse’s exposure to biting insects, especially from dusk to dawn, is one of the most important steps you can take.
With SheerGuard MozziGuard you can give your stables an extra layer of insect protection with this transparent fibreglass woven mesh, which allows in light and natural airflow, while reducing dust and keeping insects at bay.
Secure any window or door openings with SheerGuard’s multi-purpose MeshGuard. Manufactured using high strength aluminium alloys and stainless-steel mesh, this security and insect barrier is strong and durable, allows in light and natural airflow.
Both SheerGuard MeshGuard and MozziGuard are clear, so your horses can see each other, and you can check on them with ease.