Representatives from 27 British equine organizations met in London on March 1 to discuss the potential for spread of foot and mouth disease (FMD), which affects only cloven-hooved animals. The disease was discovered in pigs at a slaughterhouse in Great Britain on Feb. 20.
It has since spread to Northern Ireland, and there is fear that it has made its way to continental Europe. Although FMD does not infect horses, threat of spreading the virus cancelled a week of racing in Britain and caused much confusion over the legal movement of horses.
Foot and mouth disease is an acute, highly contagious, viral infection spread mainly by animal movement, but also potentially spread by particles in the air. “The horse is not susceptible to FMD, does not get the disease, and does not act as a silent reservoir of the disease,” said Dr. Andrew Higgins of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF). “Horses and their handlers can, however, carry the virus mechanically, i.e., on hooves, boots, and vehicles. And the virus can survive in the mud for up to one month.”
Susceptible animals include pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, and deer. Although livestock movement and exports have been banned, The U.K. government has excluded horses from the restrictions, except on or off an infected farm. The U.K. Equine Industry Infectious Diseases Committee set protocols for the equine industry to follow to help prevent inadvertent spread of the disease.
“The U.K. Jockey Club is about to issue strict guidelines for trainers and racecourses, and a modified version will be adopted by the BEF,” said Higgins. “This will include picking out and disinfecting horses’ feet before transport; thorough inside and outside disinfection of vehicles transporting horses between journeys; and disinfection pads for other vehicles and pedestrians entering events.”
The last major outbreak of FMD in the U.K. was in 1967. According to Pete