Are Exotic Pets a Disease Risk to European Horses?

Exotic pets might carry foreign vector-borne disease agents that can be deadly to horses, particularly in several recently identified “hot spots” of entry into the European Union, French researchers say.
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Exotic pets might carry foreign vector-borne disease agents that can be deadly to horses, particularly in several recently identified “hot spots” of entry into the European Union (EU), French researchers say.

Among imported live animals, imported exotic pets (mostly rodents, reptiles, and caged birds) are of particular concern, said Benoit Durand, PhD, of the Animal Health Laboratory at the Veterinary School of Maisons-Alfort, France. He recently conducted a study analyzing the risk these animals pose of introducing into the EU four arboviruses (viruses transmitted via insect vectors): Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (EEE and WEE), Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE), and Japanese encephalitis (JE).

Durand and his colleagues investigated EU importation data from 2005-2009 and information on the presence of vectors as well as human and horse density data to develop specific risk indicators for virus introduction. That risk fraction jumps to 100% for JE; 81% for EEE; 35% for WEE; and 1% for VEE. These diseases are all considered emerging in European horses, Durand said.

Officials have identified parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, and northern Italy as the “hot spots” of entry for the viruses causing these diseases, Durand said. These locations have high human populations and significant live animal imports. Belgium and the Netherlands also have dense horse populations

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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