Collaboration between government veterinary authorities and the equine industry has resulted in a new protocol in Great Britain for controlling any future outbreaks of the highly contagious venereal disease contagious equine metritis (CEM), which can cause subfertility in mares and establish chronic infections in stallions.

Any suspect CEM cases still must be reported to the British Animal and Plant Health Agency. However, under the new control arrangements, which took effect Feb. 1, owners of affected horses in England, Scotland, and Wales can use a private equine veterinary surgeon specifically approved to deal with the disease without official movement restrictions being imposed. These arrangements require compliance with the control measures outlined in the Horserace Betting Levy Board’s (HBLB) Code of Practice for CEM whilst all associated costs will continue to be covered by the owners of affected horses.

The CEM arrangements in Northern Ireland remain unchanged.

Taylorella equigenitalis, the bacterium that causes CEM, can be transmitted through both natural mating and artificial insemination. While mares often exhibit clinical signs, stallions can be infected subclinically, meaning they don’t show outward signs of disease.

In 2013, officials reviewed CEM’s notifiable disease status. Given the serious risk the disease represents to the U.K.’s breeding population and the threat to the country’s equine export market, it retained its status, officials gave more disease control responsibility to the equine industry.

Britain’s Equine Disease Coalition, in close collaboration with the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), developed the new arrangements with the full support of government animal health teams in London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff. The protocol underpins the need to comply with the HBLB Code of Practice for the disease, which contain guidance for CEM monitoring, treatment, and outbreak management.

“Whilst occurrences of CEM are sporadic and we have not had any confirmed cases in the U.K. since 2012, it still presents a very real threat to our breeding industry, said BEVA Chief Executive David Mountford. “Ensuring cases are treated and managed by an approved veterinary surgeon, who is fully versed in the HBLB Code of Practice, guarantees that the appropriate provisions will be taken in order to safeguard our world class breeding population.”

The Animal Health Trust will have a central role in the new protocol, coordinating activities undertaken by approved veterinarians, receiving and collating reports, initiating off-premises horse tracings, and taking responsibility for epidemiological investigations.

“With any contagious disease it is vital that we are always best prepared to deal with any potential outbreaks and the new arrangements for CEM control clearly set out the sector’s commitment to managing the risks presented by this disease,” said Animal Health Trust Director of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Richard Newton, BVSc, MSc, PhD, DLSHTM, Dipl. ECVPH, FRCVS. “CEM could in time have a severe impact on our equine industry if we lose the ability to support the voluntary measures outlined in the HBLB Code of Practice with the legislative powers afforded under the Infectious Diseases of Horses Order 1987. CEM is eminently treatable when it is identified and so by putting these new control measures in place whilst retaining its notifiable disease status, we can ensure any future cases are treated and managed effectively.”

World Horse Welfare Chief Executive Roly Owers, MRCVS, added, “The new protocol for controlling CEM is a great example of what can be achieved through excellent collaborative working and cost-sharing between government and the equine sector. By working together, we have developed a practical and proactive approach to managing this disease risk, not only protecting our thriving equine sector but more importantly, protecting the thousands of horses it relies upon.”

The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s Joint Veterinary Advisor Sidney Ricketts, LVO, BSc, BVSc, DSc(hc Bristol), DESM, Dipl. ECEIM, FRCPath, FRCVS, played a key role in developing the new protocol.

“We have not seen any cases of CEM in our horse population for a number of years which can largely be attributed to compliance with the HBLB Code of Practice, but in many other countries instances of infection are regularly found and so there is a continued risk from carrier or infected mares or stallions being imported into the U.K.,” he said. “The new control measures are a vital tool in helping manage this risk.”