Blood and body fluid spills present challenges to the equine practitioner when dealing with contagious animals. While contaminated surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected as soon as possible, the methods used should be deliberate. The recent outbreak of equine infectious anemia in Ireland reveals that the disease might be added to the list of dreaded pathogens such as Salmonella that can be spread through airborne transmission. Aside from their infectious nature as they float through the air, these pathogens could eventually settle on the rafters, ledges, or any horizontal surface, dry, then fall into the stalls, infecting horses weeks or months later.
Roberta Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM, of the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center, says to avoid aerosolizing any pathogen, it’s important to contain and absorb as much of a spill as possible with newspapers, paper towels, or kitty litter, and dispose of the majority of the contamination in a leak-proof container and use a disinfectant to clean, and disinfect the contaminated surface to avoid tracking pathogens everywhere.
Water pressure is key when disinfecting–if you use too much pressure, you’ll send infective droplets of pathogen in the air that could infect horses. “By low pressure we mean anything less than 120 psi,” said Dwyer. “Anything stronger has the potential to aerosolize. Essentially, you should use your garden hose nozzle.” It might be tempting to pressure wash, but that could be lethal. It’s better to get rid of as much dry organic material as possible using a low-pressure water stream and a mild detergent such as Tide, which breaks down up the fats in the organic material, making it easier to wash away.
The person disinfecting should wear proper protective clothing, including eye protection and gloves (preferably nitrile gloves that are made to withstand many chemicals, unlike latex).
Ultimately, a farm’s veterinarian should advise the management on the safest and most effective ways to clean, disinfect, and adjust biosecurity measures to avoid contamination of the rest of the barn and reduce the risk of transmission. AAEP-member veterinarians can find equine biosecurity guidelines on the AAEP web site, and AAEP non-member veterinarians can access these guidelines by calling Sally Baker at the AAEP (800/685-5179).