Multiple outbreaks of equine diseases like equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) and nocardioform placentitis have been making headlines in Kentucky, causing concern among practitioners, farm owners and managers, the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (UKVDL), as well as the horse industry media.

In order to mitigate the consequences of a disease outbreak, it is important to understand where the disease is spreading. Thanks to a surveillance system designed by Jacqueline Smith, PhD, MSc, BSc, Dipl. AVES, UKVDL epidemiologist; adjunct professor of epidemiology at Lincoln Memorial University Harrogate, Tennessee; and founder of the UKVDL Disease Mapping Initiative, we can now do just that.

Smith’s database records all of the cases that come through the UKVDL representing eight different species and over 30 diseases. Each interactive map represents every county in Kentucky and all information is publicly available. By clicking on specific regions, users can determine when the case came in, the species affected, the affected animal’s age and breed, disease (final diagnosis), and county. All of the owner’s information remains confidential to the public.

The system updates automatically each day at 5 a.m., so cases entered today will be visible on the maps tomorrow. Smith’s mapping system also includes a historical map representing all the cases that have come into the laboratory in the past 30, 90, and 365 days. If users are only interested in seeing maps of equine-related diseases, Smith has further divided case reports by species. The equine maps are divided into diagnostic testing, abortions, and necropsy maps covering diseases such as EHV-1, nocardioform placentitis, equine influenza, and leptospirosis.

The maps’ usefulness goes far beyond their ability to track diseases in animals, Smith said. They can be used as a public health information surveillance as well.

“If you think about it, there are over 1,400 diseases that are known in humans and over 60% of them are zoonotic—they have the ability to be transferred from animals to humans,” she said.

Real-World Benefits

So how can the information in the database help horse owners and veterinarians in day to day practice? An example: If the system had been implemented before the 2001-2002 mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) outbreak that had a $340 million economic impact on Kentucky’s equine industry, UKVDL would have been able to notify veterinarians and the state a week earlier.

“While a week’s notification wouldn’t have stopped anything, it would have certainly helped if we could have gotten an alert out sooner,” Smith said.

This year, the UKVDL has been keeping a close eye on a recent surge in cases of nocardioform placentitis—a type of placental infection that results in late-term abortion or small, underdeveloped foals. Already, the UKVDL has seen more than 42 cases, a number that will likely grow in the weeks to come. Smith’s mapping system detected those nocardioform placentitis cases quickly, and UKVDL staff notified the public as soon as that information became available.

Because the pathogenesis of nocardioform placentitis remains poorly understood, there is little that can be done to prevent disease spread; however, the information attained and mapped during this year’s outbreak will be very useful to epidemiologists in the future.

“The closer we can track this disease now, the better we can predict the movement of the disease in the future to warn veterinarians and have the resources available to deal with it,” Smith said.

Nocardioform Placentitis 2017 Data

University of Kentucky

Smith cautioned that the UKVDL can only track cases it sees in the laboratory, which is one of the downsides to the technology in place. As such, she emphasized the importance of reporting cases, no matter what the animal, to the UKVDL so it can continue to build its database for use of predictive analysis and early outbreak detection in the future.

“As much as I love doing this, if it wasn’t useful for people, there would be no point,” Smith said. “If the information we put out gives the public enough pause to consider talking to their veterinarian, changing their vaccine schedule, or urges them to call the VDL, then it was worth doing.”

Future Endeavors

As far as Smith can tell, no other diagnostic laboratory in the country has a similar system and database in place. Her vision is to encourage every diagnostic laboratory in the United States to share their information to create a national map that would be readily available to the public so everyone is more aware of what’s going on.

If a national map was created, epidemiologists would have a first alert system when something out of character begins to appear, she said.

“You’re protecting public health and critical infrastructure,” Smith said. “With years of information stored in this database, you are able to do predictive analysis – powerful information that could prevent a catastrophic outbreak.”

To see all of the UKVDL’s equine maps visit

For questions or concerns about disease outbreaks, contact UKVDL at 859/257-8283.

Taylor Pence is a marketing and communications intern at the UK Gluck Equine Research Center, a senior marketing major at UK, and president of the UK Dressage and Eventing Team.

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