Horses With Fever But No Cough, Nasal Discharge: Consider Tick-Borne Disease

When a horse spikes a fever without the nasal discharge and other respiratory signs you’d expect to see with an infectious disease, the potential causes could be vast. In some parts of the country, a tick-borne disease could be a culprit.
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tick-borne disease in horses
In the Great Lakes region and eastern United States, which are the areas known to have the highest tick-borne-disease incidence in both human and animals, one suspect for fevers without accompanying respiratory signs is tick-borne disease. | Photo: iStock
When a horse spikes a fever without the nasal discharge, coughing, and other respiratory signs you’d expect to see with an infectious disease, the potential causes could be vast. In the Great Lakes region and eastern United States, which are the areas known to have the highest tick-borne-disease incidence in both human and animals, one suspect is tick-borne disease.

To find out how prevalent tick-related fevers are in horses, Linda Mittel, MSPH, DVM, senior extension associate at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Ithaca, New York, studied causes of fever of unknown origin (FUO). She presented her results at the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in San Francisco, California.

In her case-control study Mittel surveyed clientele from 15 equine practices in nine eastern states and Wisconsin, which are known to have high tick populations. From the responses, she included 52 horses that had experienced a fever of unknown origin (FUO) and 52 healthy horses from the same farm as matched controls in the study. She also included an additional 23 FUO cases without matched controls. Ticks were collected from each farm environment and identified and tested for agents they were carrying.

Mittel obtained blood samples from each horse and tested for DNA of two of the most common causes of equine fever without respiratory signs—the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum, which causes the tick-borne disease anaplasmosis, and Neorickettsia risticii, which causes Potomac horse fever—plus other bacteria and parasites. She also analyzed other genetic material in each sample

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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