The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba is toughening up its biosecurity.
The 2018 Royal Manitoba Winter Fair was the first time the body required proof of vaccination for both equine herpes virus and equine influenza.
“It’s been very positive,” said Ron Kristjansson, general manager for the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba. “There’s more awareness of some equine diseases. There’s been a few little flare-ups and things and people are concerned.”
Kristjansson says organizers have been talking about ramped-up biosecurity for years, although last year’s rash of serious equine illnesses, including a spring issue with neurological equine herpes virus, brought the matter to the fore.
“It’s a perfect time to look at our biosecurity measures (and) make sure that we’re not sharing pails, sharing brushes, sharing tack between other horses and all those other kinds of things,” he said.
Dr. Joe King of Virden Animal Hospital tagged both equine herpes and influenza as a risk for the winter fair.
“Both of these are contagious respiratory viruses that affect all different lifestyles of horses,” he said. “What we decided for the health and safety of all the horses that come to show here is that in order to have an adequate level of immunity for those viruses, we needed to make it mandatory that all exhibitors, all contestants had proof of vaccination.”
Participants had to prove that they had used an accepted vaccine for each virus and that all booster shots were up to date.
King says he has never diagnosed equine herpes in the five years he has been the on-site fair veterinarian, but he has found equine influenza in the past.
Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba events are among the largest in the province in terms of drawing livestock from a wide geographic region. Ag Ex, typically held in October, generally hosts a national breed cattle show each year and, last year, drew 800 cattle and over 1,300 head of livestock in general.
Kristjansson noted that the fair does have an isolation area and that all horses were monitored for temperature changes.
Equine infectious anemia
The fair did not require a Coggins test, the standard measure against equine infectious anemia (EIA). That will change for the 2018 Manitoba Summer Fair this June, Kristjansson said.
EIA concern flared across Manitoba and particularly in the Interlake last year, leading some summer fairs and rodeos to cancel horse events or introduce a Coggins test requirement.
Although harder to spread than some other illnesses, the blood-borne disease carries a practical death sentence for any infected horse since the CFIA requires any infected animal to be euthanized or quarantined for life (an unrealistic option in most cases).
Kristjansson and King pointed out that EIA risk at the indoor Royal Manitoba Winter Fair is minimal, given that the disease is typically transmitted by biting flies.
Without flies, King noted that the only EIA risk might come from used needles or bits if an infected horse has sores in its mouth. That risk would be a “within a stable” problem and unlikely threaten stock from a different area, he said.
General biosecurity also got an upgrade this year. The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba brought in more antibacterial footbaths to be placed at the entries and exits of all areas containing animals. Additional signage was also introduced, encouraging visitors to wash their hands and ask before touching animals to avoid spreading contact diseases.
“We were looking for any ways that we could decrease the transfer of viruses or bacteria between horses at the fair,” King said. “With this being a very family-, community-oriented event, it is expected that people will come and they’ll roam the barns and they’ll look at the horses and, sometimes, they will touch the horses, we know. What we decided was to really ramp up the use of hand sanitizers and disinfectant footbaths and signage was a big thing, and that was a great thing that the group at the Provincial Exhibition did.”
Cattle did not need proof of vaccination, although Kristjansson says they are considering how to fold bovine concerns into their policy.
King argued that equine herpes and influenza vaccines should become a standing requirement for the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba. That is unlikely to cause problems for competitors, he noted, since travelling and competing horses are generally recommended to get those vaccines every six months anyway.
“We’re building the protocols and they’ll change as we go,” Kristjansson said. “As other disease concerns come up, we can add or take some out.”
The policy has not significantly impacted entry numbers at the fair, he added.