Researchers Working to Address Risk of AHS Spread

Climate change is creating conducive conditions for African horse sickness to spread further than it has in the past.
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As the climate changes and horses travel internationally more frequently, the deadly disease African horse sickness (AHS) might soon seem less exotic, researchers from around the world say.

Faced with the imminent threat of the “equine plague,” as it’s called in French, international scientists from across the globe convened at the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) headquarters in Paris earlier this year to address this potential threat and find solutions.

“We hope to encourage, develop, and enrich the collaboration among countries dealing with a disease that would have dramatic consequences on the equine industry if we are insufficiently prepared for its arrival,” said Jean-Yves Gauchot, DVM, president of the French surveillance center for equine pathologies (RESPE) in Caen. The RESPE organized this first international conference to address “AHS: A Danger at our Doorstep.”

African horse sickness affects primarily equids, but also camels and dogs. It’s caused by the AHS virus that biting midges transmit from host to host. While the disease is most deadly to horses (up to 90% mortality rate in unvaccinated animals) and somewhat less deadly for donkeys and mules, it has no clinical effect on zebras, said Alan Guthrie, BVSc, MedVet, PhD, director of the University of Pretoria’s Equine Research Centre, in South Africa. But because midges can still transmit the virus to these striped equids, “the zebra population is therefore a permanent reservoir for the AHS virus,” he said

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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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