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EIA down, but not necessarily out, with incoming cold

The risk of spreading equine infectious anemia is slowing down as cold weather lowers fly populations, 
but the CFIA warns that more cases might be detected next year

The federally appointed veterinarian in Manitoba’s equine infectious anemia (EIA) scare says he expects positive results to trickle in through 2018.

Alex McIsaac, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) western animal health specialist, said a number of EIA carriers in the province have slipped through the cracks until now due to infrequent testing.

Animals infected with EIA may not show symptoms but may still spread the disease.

“I do think next year there will be another big push to test for shows and sales and I think we’ll probably find some more next year as well, and that’s what usually happens, right? You’ll usually have an index case that causes a big rush in testing and then you start finding extra cases and it usually goes on for another year… and then after that you don’t find any more and then people start waning on their testing and people don’t test anymore and then it builds back up. It just works in a cycle,” he said.

Seven premises were put on lockdown and 17 horses tested positive for EIA and were euthanized in 2017, the CFIA reports. Of those, four premises have been released from quarantine, while farms in the municipalities of Rosedale, Springfield and Armstrong are still being monitored.

McIsaac expects one of those three to be released in the near future.

The CFIA tests all equines on a farm where an animal is found positive. The farm is then put into 45-day quarantine, the longest incubation period for the virus, before animals are tested again. If no other animals test positive, the premise is considered EIA free.

The CFIA requires that any infected animal be either put down or quarantined for life, although most EIA-positive animals are euthanized in practice.

The incurable, blood-borne virus causes swelling in the extremities, weakness, anorexia and weight loss, intermittent fever, depression, jaundice, small hemorrhages under the tongue and eye and is potentially fatal.

Reduced contagion risk

The disease is less likely to spread as Manitoba’s short summer winds down and biting flies, the main vector for EIA, disappear, McIsaac said, although already-infected horses still need to be found.

“Without testing, you can’t really determine whether there’s infected horses out there which harbour the virus,” he said.

A number of animals this year, including the most recent EIA case in September, tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms.

The outbreak stayed largely contained to the Interlake. The first cases appeared in the RM of St. Clements, followed by two infected animals in the RM of Armstrong. Cases were eventually discovered in the municipalities of Springfield, St. Andrews, Hanover and Rosedale.

It was a grim summer for horse sports in the region. The Arborg Fair and Rodeo cancelled all horse bucking, chuckwagons, vaulting demonstrations and pony rides and saw far fewer barrel racing competitors July 14-16. The fair’s bucking stock provider was among the infected premises and in quarantine at the time.

The North Interlake Show Circuit also cancelled most events this summer.

Outside the Interlake, a number of agricultural societies and horse events required a valid Coggins test, commonly used to detect EIA, before allowing animals on the grounds.

Arborg was among the first to require mandatory testing, although the requirement also popped up during the Carman Fair in mid-July. Others, such as the Gilbert Plains-Grandview Agricultural Society, plan to add mandatory testing next year.

The Manitoba Horse Council required a valid Coggins test for all events at the Birds Hill Park Equestrian Facility, including the 2017 Manitoba Equestrian Championships in September.

“It was a requirement that we set in response to the outbreaks that we had, some of which were worryingly close enough that it was certainly warranted,” council executive director John Savard said. “At the horse council, we’ve determined (it) to be the best practice for shows anyway and we’re very happy to state that to anyone.”

EIA did impact event attendance and one event had to be cancelled out of concern over the disease, Savard said.

The board has yet to determine if the requirement will remain after this year, although Savard expects it to become standing policy.

The Coggins requirement applied only to the equestrian facility, not trail riding or other horse activities in Birds Hill Park.

McIsaac added that he was impressed overall with horse show and horse association responses in the wake of the outbreak.

“We had an initial rush and, I’ll be frank with you, a little bit of a panic, and they handled it very, very well. I was quite pleased how it worked out,” he said.

Ag Ex on EIA

Brandon’s Ag Ex, one of the largest events left on Manitoba’s show and rodeo circuit, will not require a Coggins test, although general manager Ron Kristjansson says they are monitoring the outbreak. The Provincial Exhibition, the organizing body for Ag Ex, is recommending but not requiring horses be tested.

Unlike the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, the Provincial Exhibition is the host, but not the organizer of horse events during Ag Ex, he added. Instead, organizers for the horse sales, ranch sorting, and Manitoba Rodeo Cowboy Association (which will hold its finals at Ag Ex), will be responsible for their own rules.

“We are working with our veterinarian to come up with a specific equine biosecurity protocol for the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, which will be in March 2018, and that we’re going to use as a framework for all of our horse events going forward from there,” Kristjansson said. “We may require some specific vaccinations for specific diseases. We’re just kind of in the final stages of putting that together to send out to our exhibitors.”

The Provincial Exhibition put a higher focus on biosecurity this year, including boot baths in the barns and an on-site veterinarian during events. Owners were also asked to take animal temperatures.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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